Art History 101: A Lesson in Perspective

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Everything you always wanted to know about art, but were afraid to ask.

Art History 101: A Lesson in Perspective

This totally messy political cartoon from 1844 will help you put political obsessions in perspective. It's all about a US presidential election, but has raccoons and roosters and lots of men in it, and makes no sense at all.

Can you make head or tail of this political cartoon? Unless you're a political historian, we bet you can't. Here's what the Library of Congress has to say about it.

A cartoon on the defeat of Whig Henry Clay in the 1844 presidential election, ascribing his loss of the state of New York to his cousin Cassius M. Clay's campaign tour on his behalf. Oddly, though given prominence in the title, Cassius M. Clay does not appear in the picture itself. As Clay and his running mate Theodore Frelinghuysen – each having raccoon bodies – cross a bridge, it collapses in pieces, spilling Clay and his entourage of raccoons and starving dogs into the river. Clay grasps Frelinghuysen's tail and says, "Hold on Vice Frelinghuysen I have not only lost my election, I fear my principles are leaking out and will be exposed to the gaze of the Common people." From his open abdomen fall pistols, playing cards, and dice, evidence of his penchant for dueling and gambling. Freylinghusen responds: "Oh! Great Henry this is the effect of keeping bad Company. I think YOU are about the right material for a Vice President. I advise you to study Divinity it is your only hope left." (Frelinghuysen was a prominent churchman.) Assorted exclamations come from the hapless animals, one of whom cries, "help me Casius or I sink." On the section of the bridge at right several roosters holding brooms (symbolizing reform) jeer at the two candidates, the largest one saying, "Humbug has had its days." Below the roosters, in the distance, a crowd dances around a flagpole with a banner inscribed "Oregon" and "Texas." Further on, a fortress with a flag "Our Thunder" fires one of its guns. Standing on the left side of the bridge are two Pennsylvanians. One says, "Did you hear the news from New York-York York all honest & true" and the other, "Oh! give us Polk & Dallas how happy we will be . . . ." In the water below, a boat marked "Make way for Gov. Shunk" rows by with three men aboard. One man in the boat, possibly newly elected Democratic governor of Pennsylvania Francis R. Shunk, observes of Clay, "that large [Rac]Coon has very black Legs I reckon." "Blackleg" was common slang for scoundrel.

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Dmitri Gheorgheni

30.08.21 Front Page

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