|Promotional image provided by R. Sabin|
The Society of Illustrators’ Museum of Illustration is currently hosting an exhibit devoted to the works of Victorian cartoonist, Marie Duval. Duval pursued several careers during her life, including actress, author and cartoonist, but this exhibit focuses on this last pursuit, which made Duval one of the early female cartoonists in Europe and an important figure in the field. Born Isabelle Émilie de Tessier, Duval worked during the 1860’s to 1880’s using a number of different noms de plume, including both male and female names. In part for this reason, her work has not always had the scrutiny and study of which it may be worthy. This touring exhibit, which was created by Central Saint Martins and the University of Chester with additional support from the London Library and the British Library, seeks to introduce her work to a wider audience.
Featuring slightly more than two dozen examples of Duval’s cartoons, the exhibit offers a nice overview of her work. Much of Duval’s art appeared in a publication called Judy or the London Serio-Comic Journal, and more than half of the pieces in the exhibit are taken from this publication. The examples of her cartoons for Judy show Duval’s style, which often featured exaggerated features and expressions on human and animal characters alike. Her works touch on several topics, mostly related to trends and social commentary and almost entirely from a humorous point of view. As an example, one of her comics entitled “Rinkophobia: A Passing Fancy” pokes fun at roller skating and the injuries it can cause. Though the vast majority of the works are done in black and white, there are two color works included in the exhibit.
Perhaps of greatest note amongst her works are her Ally Sloper cartoons. These comic strips gained a great deal of popularity and she produced enough to be published in several volumes. The exhibit includes several examples of these works which show the types of subject she covered in the strips and how the style of her art for these strips differed from her other artwork and, to some degree, from one another.
The exhibit is primarily made up of reproductions, but most are done in a manner that makes the artwork’s place in the larger publication clear. Unfortunately, the exhibit does not have clear labels for each of the works, which would be helpful to offer more context and also to make it easier for researchers to find the items for further research. In addition, though some of the items are dated, several are not, making it difficult to place them in the arc of her career without outside information. However, despite these limitations, the exhibit is a nice introduction to the work of a Victorian cartoonist who likely deserves greater acclaim than she has received to date.
The exhibit and the related Marie Duval Archive (http://www.marieduval.org/), which was created by the same group of scholars, were made possible by an Arts and Humanities Research Council UK grant. For those interested in learning more about Duval, the Archive is an invaluable resource, which provides some basic background information about her and provides access to high resolution scanned reproductions of over 1,000 of her pieces ranging from 1869 to 1885 with more to be added in the future. An additional resource is the book Marie Duval, edited by Simon Grennan, Roger Sabin and Julian Waite (Myriad, 2018, £19.99, ISBN 978-0-9955900-9-0). The exhibit was previously displayed at Berlin Illustrative and Guildhall Library.
(This review was written for the International Journal of Comic Art 22:1, but this version appears on the IJOCA website on January 9 2020, while the exhibit is still open for viewing.)
 Simon Grennan, Roger Sabin and Julian Waite. “About Marie Duval.” The Marie Duval Archive. http://www.marieduval.org/about-marie-duval.
 Simon Grennan, Roger Sabin and Julian Waite. “Drawings by Year.” The Marie Duval Archive. http://www.marieduval.org/drawings.