Posts tagged ‘Leuchars’

Jun 8, 2022

Cynicus: the first comic postcard artist and a biting caricaturist – Fife’s Martin Anderson

Political cartoonist Martin Anderson sounds like a great guy who would have gone down a storm on Twitter. Born in Leuchars in Fife in 1854 Anderson honed his creative skills at Glasgow School of Art but finding Glasgow Art Club too snooty for his liking he set up an alternative  – St Mungo Art Club. Several members of the GAC, nevertheless, became his friends, including painters James Guthrie and John Lavery and charismatic journalist, adventurer and supporter of Scottish nationalism, R.B. Cunninghame Graham, whose doppelganger he was.  

For a short time Anderson worked as a calico printer before moving to London to

 to study art proper

That lasted only a little while before he headed back to Scotland to take up work with Dundee publishers John Leng and Co. as its staff artist and set up home at Broughty Ferry.

Forever on the lookout for fresh opportunities to bring his talent with pen and pencil to a wider public Anderson contributed to Quiz, a Scottish rival publication to Punch magazine, using the pseudonym, bob but soon bob gave way to the name that would forever be associated with him, Cynicus. It was in Quiz in 1888 that his famous series of sketches was first published, The Satires of Cynicus; biting satires on politics and contemporary society.

Sales of his sketches failed to sell in the numbers he hoped and so Anderson once more took the road south to London where he chanced on a redundant fish and chips shop in Drury Lane which was turned into a studio for his Cynicus Publishing Company. He was giving it the finishing touches, adding its name to the studio window, when a fellow from Dundee happened to walk past and recognised Martin who had just completed CYNICUS PUB. The Dundonian returned home and reported that Martin Anderson had opened a bar in London. Once Anderson completed painting the name CYNICUS PUBLISHING COMPANY on the outside of the shop he set up a display inside the window with a number of his caricatures and one Monday morning he drew up the blind. In no time the police were at the door.

You’ll have to take those pictures away

Anderson’s window display was stopping passers-by in their tracks. Even street traffic was grinding to a halt. A policeman ordered him to remove his cartoons to free up the streets but Anderson sent the policeman packing, telling him it was a police problem, not his. No sooner had the copper left to sort out the horse and wagon chaos than a bunch of reporters turned up – to the cartoonist’s delight. At last, his caricatures would receive the attention they deserved. And so they did. Cynicus’ print series of 1000 copies of his cartoons all but sold out in no time.  

Anderson’s popularity spread in London’s political and artistic circles. His little studio became a mecca for many – among them Canadian poetess, author and performer, E Pauline Johnson, who took the stage under her Mohawk name of Tekahionwake. She appeared in native costume to recite Mohawk poems or as the press described them, “barbaric war songs” that reportedly “scared Keir Hardie stiff.” Hardie became a friend, as did Ramsay MacDonald, George Bernard Shaw, Jerome K. Jerome, James Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, William Morrice and a host of others. Several of these people, including Anderson, were members of a private and exclusively male club called Vagabonds.  

Cynicus’ studio shop was remembered as being always very untidy but homely with the tea-kettle always boiling and ‘no one was allowed to go away without a cup, with food as well pressed on them.’  Anderson was a kindly man who lend money liberally.

Outlets for Anderson’s drawings expanded as his reputation grew. His drawings illustrated many articles and opinion pieces in magazines and newspapers. In 1891 he published The Humours of Cynicus as a book with revisions of several of his early cartoons first seen in Quiz. He also created a series of new cartoons which he called Symbols and Metaphors. The final edition of his Satires of Cynicus was published in 1926 and two years before he died Martin Anderson published Memoirs of Cynicus in 12 instalments in the Glasgow Evening News.

Always looking to increase exposure of his caricatures, Anderson went into postcard production. Postcards were new in the late 1890s and quickly caught on. Anderson’s initial output was for a company called Blum & Degan. These early postcards were court-sized, that is smaller and squarer than later and more familiar rectangular postcards. By 1902 the Post Office cleared the way for postcards to be produced with a split back for message and address and a picture front. And the public loved them. Martin Anderson, Cynicus, was the first person to produce comic postcards.

A postcard studio was set up at Tayport, across the river from Dundee. There at the Cynicus Publishing Company Anderson trained and employed disabled boys and girls who found it difficult to get employment to hand-colour individual cartoons. The Tayport studio opened in 1902, turning out coloured postcards and for a time they sold well but as demand dried up debts increased and by 1911 the North of Scotland Bank insisted it be shut down to pay off creditors, selling off the stock for less than its value.

Anderson went to Leeds where postcards were being produced and he set up there but not for long. The Great War put an end to the enterprise and he moved back to Scotland, to Edinburgh’s York Place which surprised many of his friends but he explained,

I was country bred, and I wanted to be back in Scotland.

That was in 1915, the year he created his powerful anti-war allegorical poster, War! In War! he depicts society as a pyramid with Mammon sitting on top, on a throne, frittering away the nation’s wealth whose main beneficiaries are greedy, unscrupulous war barons. A figure of Lust is there with famine at her feet. Government and Justice are bound and gagged and the Lamp of Truth has been extinguished. Anderson was scathing about the Church, disliked the hypocrisy of those professing to be Christians. In War! the Church is shown supporting the obscene slaughter of war that leads to the blood of soldiers running like a river while rapacious Bankers claim their assets.  

War! was regarded as provocative and dangerous by the state and Anderson was threatened with internment without trial under the government’s strict emergency powers, Defence of the Realm Act or DORA, for displaying the poster in his shop window. Anderson duly removed it from the window and reproduced it as postcards which were lapped up by the public.  

In another poster entitled, Dictator (I can’t track down an image of it) Cynicus addressed another broken government promise – the one that promised any who enlisted in the army would return from war to homes fit for heroes. Some homes were built but for many, post-war brought homelessness, hunger, unemployment and humiliation. Government promises don’t change. Dictator shows demobbed soldiers being met by the bloated figure of Capitalism sitting pretty on a sack stuffed with profits made from selling arms to all sides in the war. The British press are portrayed as a megaphone disseminating government propaganda and lies. The Police who imposed DORA are brutal suppressers of Liberty and Freedom that lie dead and buried. A bloated Lloyd George represents Government as the maker and breaker of promises, and the hypocritical Church with a banner, “Britain’s welcome to the Troops” – that in fact leads to the poorhouse. Britain’s government’s brutal anti-independence policy in Ireland is represented as Black and Tan dog.  

Despite his successes, ill-luck dogged Martin Anderson’s life. In 1924 fire destroyed his shop in Edinburgh and with it, all its contents. There was no money to start up again from scratch so Anderson retired to his native Fife. He had a large house, Castle Cynicus, built on Lucklaw Hill above Balmullo overlooking St Andrew’s Bay which he called Liberty Hall. Carved into the lintel over its main door was the word, Truth.  

His ‘castle’ was tastefully designed and built of red sandstone with yellow Caithness stone roofing and walls of glass windows so that light flooded its spacious interior. A hall ran the length of the building; a huge pipe organ at one end and a grand piano at the other. There were expanses of polished floors, winding staircase, water colour painted wall panels, hand-painted ceiling, large potted plants, studio, tower and lift. A museum was packed with all sorts of rare artefacts Anderson had collected over his lifetime – a chair dating back to 1622, an ancient copy of the Koran, a purple coat that belonged to Bonnie Prince Charlie, Chinese jade carvings, precious stones, crystals, fossils, coins, ancient weapons, many rare books and a lot of stuffed animals and birds – a jaguar, reindeer, fox and wild cats and the remains of an Inca princess from 1500 years ago.  

On 14 April 1932 the popular charismatic Cynicus died suddenly, aged 80, a generous man in his lifetime, he died in poverty. A brief death notice appeared in the Dundee Courier four days later – of the ‘artist and author’. A service was held at Liberty Hall and he was buried at Tayport Old Churchyard. Among the wreaths was one from the ILP Cycling Club in Fife. The funeral was never paid and the man who was the first designer of comic postcards and produced biting satires on the dishonesty of life in the UK lies in an unmarked grave.  Two of the pall-bearers were, unusually, women – Miss and Miss A. Peden of Dundee.

Following his death there was an auction of some of Anderson’s belongings to pay off debts. Much of Anderson’s wonderful and rare collections remained in the beautiful empty mansion. Almost inevitably vandals turned up at the empty property. They smashed the large picture windows and gained entry. What remained of the museum collection were destroyed – rare books ripped apart and scattered around. Anderson’s paintings were torn off walls and slashed. His painted wall panels suffered the same fate. Stuffed animals and birds were pulled to pieces. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s purple coat was trampled and thrown down amidst the devastation. The mummified body of the Inca princess had a leg ripped off and the rest of the body pulled apart.

A sad end to the life of a talented and humane man who made a significant contribution to popular culture with his mockery of the establishment – of government, church, military and the whole capitalist structure of Britain’s unequal society. At his death Anderson was remembered in Reynold’s News as a man at

the birth of the modern democratic movement

no living cartoonist is more able to preach a sermon in a minute

bold and profound thinker, with a thought in every line he drew

Martin Anderson provided sketches for newspapers and periodicals and drew for postcards that sold in their millions. In his later life he established a school for disabled children at Liberty Hall where he taught them to make a living by drawing and hand colouring. He was an accomplished musician and a man with shrewd powers of judgement that saw right through the duplicity and pomposity of the British establishment.