American historians remember cartoonist Thomas Nast (1841-1907) for several creations that continue to entertain and enlighten:
- (1) he devised the animal icons of the country's chief political rivals, the Republican Party's elephant and the Democratic Party's donkey.
- (2) he invented the Tammany Tiger as the iconic vehicle for his editorial cartoons in the anti-corruption crusade in his Harpers' Weekly series that brought down the New York City political cabal of Boss W. M. Tweed and Tammany Hall.
- (3) he also created (something few may remember) the modern image of the American Santa Claus, as distinct from Britain's Father Christmas. In addition, literary historians still associate his illustrations with the novels of Mark Twain.
Upon his death on 7 December 1902, Nast's obituary in Harper's Weekly stated, "He has been called, perhaps not with accuracy, but with substantial justice, the Father of American Caricature."
Thomas Nast was not a native-born but a naturalized American, born in Landau, Germany, on 27 September 1840, son of a military bandsman who later emigrated to the United States. Having studied art in New York City, at the age of just 15 Nast had joined the artistic staff of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper; several years later, he shifted to the more prestigious Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, becoming a staff artist in 1862, after his Italian adventure.
Thomas Nast mainly drew satirical commentaries for Harper's Weekly from 1859 to 1860 and from 1862 until 1886. During his brief hiatus from working in the highly politicized environment of New York City, in February 1860, he travelled to Great Britain to cover a major sporting event for the New York Illustrated News, the prize fight staged by George Wilkes (publisher of the periodical Spirit of the Times) between an American boxer, John C. Heenan, and his British opponent, Thomas Sayers. Seizing the opportunity to provide more serious newspaper coverage, as an artist for The Illustrated London News, the twenty-year-old journalist took ship for Italy to cover Garibaldi's military campaign to liberate the peninsula from Austria. Nast's cartoons and reportage about Garibaldi's attempt to unify Italy by force of arms captured the popular American imagination. In his most celebrated political cartoon from that period, Peace (1862), Nast attacked those lukewarm supporters of the Union who wanted a speedy end to the American Civil War, even at the expense of the principles for which so many had already died in the Abolitionist cause.
In 1873, at the invitation of Samuel Langhorn Clemens ("Mark Twain"), Nast accompanied the rising American author and platform speaker to England to illustrate a new book. Nast famously lampooned Twain's travelling to Canada to assert his copyright on The Prince and The Pauper in a January 1882 editorial cartoon in Harpers' Weekly. — Philip V. Allingham
- Nast's illustrations of Pickwick Papers
- Nast's illustrations of Pictures from Italy and American Notes
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File and Checkmark Books, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers (1836-37). Illustrated by Thomas Nast. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Bros., 1873.
Patten, Robert L. Charles Dickens and His Publishers. Santa Cruz, Cal.: The Dickens Project, 1991; a rpt. of the Oxford University Press edition of 1978.
Rasmussen, R. Kent. Mark Twain A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1995.
Last modified 29 September 2019