David Low (b.1891; d.1963)

David Alexander Cecil Low was born on April 7 1891, in Dunedin, New Zealand, to Scottish-Irish parents. He was educated at Boys’ High School, Christchurch. A political cartoonist, caricaturist and illustrator, Low was self-taught, excepting a correspondence course at a New York school of caricature (c.1900) and a brief stay at Canterbury School of Art. Early influences were Punch artists such as Tom Browne, Keene, Sambourne and Phil May and caricaturists Gillray, Daumier and Philipon, and Low’s interest in caricature was ignited through reading various English comics.

At the age of eleven his first cartoons began to be accepted by magazines, and he won drawing competitions. In 1907 he joined the Sketcher and in 1908 became the full time political cartoonist for the Christchurch Spectator. In 1910 he moved to the Canterbury Times, and in 1911 the Sydney Bulletin, where he was influenced by Will Dyson and Norman Lindsay. The Billy Book, in which Low lampooned the Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes, was a best-seller, bringing him to the attention of Arnold Bennett, leading to his move to England in 1919, when his signature changed from ‘Dave Low’ to ‘Low’. Low worked on the Star in 1919, and moved to the Evening Standard in 1927, the Daily Herald in 1950 and the Manchester Guardian in 1953. He also contributed to several other magazines, including Picture Post, Punch, and Collier’s. Low worked for Conservative newspapers, but his work often promoted values and opinions at variance with those of his employers (including Beaverbrook). He visited the Soviet Union with Kingsley Martin in 1932 to observe ‘the reality of life for Russian citizens’, behind ‘the headlines and propaganda’, with his drawings showing evidence of the ‘brutality of life under Stalin’.

Low was particularly famous in the nineteen-thirties for his cartoons that ridiculed Hitler and Mussolini, and was added to the Gestapo black list. Other memorable comic characters he created included the TUC carthorse, the Coalition Ass and Colonel Blimp. In the Second World War he continued to challenge ‘the powers-that-be’, particularly through Colonel Blimp, at a time when everybody was meant to pull together. Low ‘combined an economy of word and concept with a phenomenal drawing talent’. Beaverbrook, Minister of Information in 1918, criticised the ‘ragged quality of British propaganda’ in the Second World War. Prior to the arrival of Bracken, Low ‘happily contributed to the denigration of a department which had always been dogged by a reputation for ineptitude, inconsistency, and persistent indifference to the needs of Fleet Street’. Over a 50 year career he produced over 14,000 drawings, syndicated world-wide through more than 200 newspapers and magazines. He received honorary doctorates from the universities of New Bruswick, Canada (1958) and Leicester (1961), and was knighted in 1962. He died on September 19 1963, and an exhibition of his work was held at the Political Cartoon Society in 2002, accompanied by a series of lectures.

Publications: Low’s Annual (1908), Caricatures (1915), The Billy Book (1918), Man, the Lord of Creation (1920), Lloyd George & Co. (1921), Low & I (with F.W.Thomas) (1923), The Low & I Holiday Book (1925), Sketches by Low (1926), Lions & Lambs (with ‘Lynx’ R. West) (1928), The Best of Low (1930), Low’s Russian Sketchbook (with K.Martin) (1932), Caricatures by Low (1933), Low & Terry (with H. Thorogood) (1934), The Modern Rake’s Progress (with R. West) (1934), Ye Madde Designer (1935), Low’s Political Parade (1936), Low Again (1938), A Cartoon History of Our Times (with Q. Howe) (1939), Europe Since Versailles (1940), Europe at War (1941), Low’s War Cartoons (1941), Low on the War (1941), The World at War (1941), British Cartoonists, Caricaturists and Comic Artists (1942), Years of Wrath (1946), Low’s Company (1952), Low Visibility (1953), Low’s Cartoon History 1945-53 (1953), The Fearful Fifties (1960).

Information collated from: The Political Cartoon Society, ‘Exhibitions and Events’, http://www.politicalcartoon.co.uk/html/exhibition.html, accessed August 28 2003. See also Low, D., Low’s Autobiography, 1956; Brighton School of Art and Design, ‘Satire’, http://www.adh.brighton.ac.uk/schoolofdesign/MA.COURSE/09/Lsatire01.html, accessed October 4 2003; Smith, A., ‘Low and Lord Beaverbrook: The Cartoonist & the Newspapers Proprietor’, Encounter Vol. 65, 1985, pp.7-24 (detailed review of the relationship between left-wing Low and right-wing Beaverbrook); Brighton School of Art and Design, ‘Archive: David Low’, http://www.adh.brighton.ac.uk/schoolofdesign/MA.COURSE/01/LIALow.html, accessed October 3 2003; The Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature, ‘Artists Details: David Low’, http://library.kent.ac.uk/cartoons/about/artistsdetailslow.php,accessed August 28 2003 (taken from Dictionary of British Cartoonists and Caricaturists 1730-1980 compiled by Mark Bryant and Simon Heneage published by Scolar Press 1994)

3 thoughts on “David Low (b.1891; d.1963)

  1. I can’t find any information about DAVID LOW as an official war artist… Where can I find some examples of his work for the M.O.I?

    1. Please note: “Low ‘happily contributed to the denigration of a department which had always been dogged by a reputation for ineptitude, inconsistency, and persistent indifference to the needs of Fleet Street’.”

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