Tuesday, 29 May 2012

H M Bateman and Working Class Pursuits

Now that tobacco products are concealed from public view by a PVC curtain, the days when they were openly advertised seem increasingly remote. The shadow of the carcinoma had yet to fall in the 1950s when these were first published and smoking was still perceived as the first (and easiest) step towards adulthood in a world where seniority invariably prevailed over merit in the workplace. These vignettes of working class culture were intended to appeal to the lower income smoker and therein lies the irony. The artist, H M Bateman (1887-1970) was by all accounts an inveterate snob with a hearty contempt for his social inferiors; he also had a persistent problem with paying income tax. If he was alive today he would be voting UKIP and passionately supporting the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Bateman’s reputation rested on his masterly portrayal of embarrassment and apoplectic rage – in the 1920s he achieved a high level of public recognition for “The man who .......” series of caricatures in which hapless individuals experience the ultimate in public humiliation when their transgressions of unwritten social codes are cruelly exposed to howls of outrage, scorn and hilarity in equal measure. They were widely published on both sides of the Atlantic in magazines like The Tatler and Punch and republished in book form, on calendars, postcards and posters. Between the wars, Bateman was a wealthy and much sought after illustrator for whom advertising art was especially lucrative – he drew for Lucky Strike in the US and for Kensitas in UK. When he carried out this commission for Bar One his fortunes were at their lowest – his infinite variations on “The man who .......” theme had greatly outstripped the public appetite and his interminable battles with the Inland Revenue had left him bitter and impoverished to the point where he could have been the subject of one of his own drawings as “The man who drew working-class pursuits for Bar One”. To be fair, the Bar One drawings (of which there are many more than this) may have been dependent on a much used stock of characters but they still made a strong visual impression in the pages of Picture Post. Public interest revived in the 1960s and the quality of his best work continues to be appreciated – at the time of writing the Cartoon Museum in London is exhibiting a selection of his work, “The man who went mad on paper”

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