Saturday, February 23, 2013

Matt Morgan of FUN

[1] Fun, February 27, 1864.

MATTHEW SOMERVILLE MORGAN (‘Matt’ Morgan to his associates) was born in Camden town, London, on April 27, 1839 to a theatrical family. He studied scene painting in the studio of Telbin and Grieves and was employed at Drury Lane where his father led the orchestra in several theatres. He was taught drawing by the well-known engraver Thomas Hicks and Royal Academicians Absalom and Coxe Smyth. He married early in life and began working as a book illustrator before working as a traveling sketch correspondent for The London Illustrated News, traveling through France, Italy, Spain, and Algiers. He was in Africa in 1858 and covered the Franco-Prussian war in 1859. Morgan was a member of the Prince of Wales set.

[2] Fun, July 23, 1864.
Matt Morgan contributed volume covers, political cuts and ‘socials’ (technical term used for gag cartoons) to London Fun between 1862 and 1867 although he was not the only artist providing the big cuts.  

[3] Fun, Vol. IV, 1863.
In 1867 he was the sole cartoonist on The Tomahawk (‘A Saturday Journal of Satire’, 11 May 1867 - 27 Aug 1870), a satirical paper edited by Arthur À Beckett with the assistance of his older brother Gilbert À Beckett. Their father was the famous Gilbert À Beckett of Punch. Gilbert Jr. was a playwright. Morgan’s signature was a miniature tomahawk. The Tomahawk was similar to Punch but was mostly text with a one or two page color tinted woodcut in each twopenny issue. Matt Morgan was the first cartoonist on Judy (1867) at the same time he labored on The Tomahawk. Morgan was sole cartoonist for a Tomahawk spin-off, the monthly literary periodical Brittania (1869-1870).

[4] The Tomahawk, October 24, 1868.
Sir F.C. Burnand snidely recalled in “Mr. Punch”; Some Precursors and Competitors, that

‘…he made no secret of the fact that he went to Tenniel’s pictures for his models, and, as he said to me, “You couldn’t find better anywhere.” This was absolutely true. Matt also showed me what was his method of serving in statu pupillary to John Tenniel. He took one of his master’s cartoons, some tracing-paper and a pencil, – that was all. Then he got on the tracks of Tenniel’s lion and traced him; then he worked on Brittania’s lines in the same manner. Result – a Matt “Morganatic marriage” in artful cartooning.’

[5] The Tomahawk, May 9, 1868.
According to stories told by Morgan himself, two of his Tomahawk cartoons ran afoul of the Royal family, a ‘Brown Study’ showing the Scottish gilly, the Queen’s favorite servant, rumored to be Victoria’s lover, standing behind the throne of England, and another featuring the Prince of Wales as Hamlet following the ghost of George IV. Apparently these scandals necessitated Morgan’s banishment from the country. Morgan was not the author of the cartoons; the subjects were chosen by his employers. According to Richard Scully the truth was more mundane, Tomahawk went bankrupt (Morgan as well) and he had no choice but to accept Frank Leslie's timely offer of American employment. He may also have been running from a disgraceful affair with a Covent Garden actress.

[6] Matt Morgan in America, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, November 8, 1873.
‘He then went to sunny Spain, and led a wild roving life with the gipsies. He sent some sketches to Frank Leslie, who at once recognizing their merit, and needing a man to beat Nast, sent for Matt. The latter reached New York by the first steamer, and strolling up to Frank Leslie’s publishing house, was met by John, the dignified English porter. Matt at that time was a curious sight to see. He wore Spanish pantaloons, loose and flowing and slit at the bottoms, a short gilt-spangled velvet jacket, a bright-colored scarf and wide brimmed sombrero. Several daggers and poniards hung from his belt, and his mustachios were fierce enough for a Rinaldo Rinaldini or bold buccaneer of the Spanish Main.’ – St. Louis Globe Democrat, March 30, 1876.
[7] Fun, July 9, 1864.
Whatever the truth of this Barnumesque newspaper account, Morgan found employment in America with Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Frank Leslie’s Budget of Fun. Leslie hired Morgan in August 1870 to replace the late William Newman (died July 1870).

[8] The Tomahawk, July 4, 1868.
Morgan left Leslies employ in 1875 and worked on stage scenery in New York. In 1880 he was engaged as manager by the Strobridge Lithographic Company in Cincinnati where he stayed until 1885 painting canvas dioramas and lithographic posters. He painted dioramas of Jerusalem, Pompeii and Christ Entering Jerusalem taken from a scene in the stage-play Ben Hur. At the time of his death he was working on scenery and decorations for the new Madison Square Garden. He founded the Matt Morgan Art Pottery Company and the Cincinnati Art Students’ League.

Matt Morgan was the chief political cartoonist for St. Stephen’s Review in London from January to August 1885. He was the first art director of and chief cartoonist for Collier’s Once a Week (1888-1889), later Collier’s Weekly.

[9] Fun, Vol. VI, 1864.
His work appeared in many illustrated newspapers including covers for the Dramatic Mirror Christmas Numbers. Morgan died June 2, 1890 at his residence at Lexington Avenue, New York, NY. He had been married twice and had sixteen children. He had married his second wife in the 1880's in Canada. His most famous child was Fred Morgan, political cartoonist for a quarter century on the Philadelphia Inquirer. Fred also contributed illustrations to Once a Week. Another son, Reginald Morgan, took a career as a scene painter and a daughter, Miss Bertie Morgan, drew caricatures for Truth, Life, and Once a Week.

[10] Matt Morgan, June 15, 1890.
[11] The Tomahawk,  December 26, 1868.
[12] The Tomahawk, August 8, 1868.
[13] Fun, April 2, 1864.
[14] Fun, endpiece, Vol. VI, 1864.
[15] February 22, 1888.
[16] Fun, June 25, 1864.
[17] Fun, March 19, 1864.
[18] Fun, July 2, 1864.
[19] Matt Morgan’s caricaturist daughter, 1890.
[20] The Tomahawk, October 26, 1867.
[21] Fun, March 26, 1864.
Further reading:

‘The Epitheatrical Cartoonist’: Matthew Somerville Morgan and the World of Theatre, Art and Journalism in Victorian London by Richard Scully, Journal of Victorian Culture Vol. 16, No. 3, December 2011, 363–384

Sex, Art, and the Victorian Cartoonist: 

Matthew Somerville Morgan in Victorian Britain and America, 
by Richard Scully, IJOCA (International Journal of Comic Art), 
Vol. 13, No.1, Spring 2011, pp.291-325.

Thanks to Richard Samuel West for corrections.

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