San Francisco

Max Beerbohm (1872–1956) and Edward Kitson

California Palace Of The Legion Of Honor

The Beerbohm is the sort of exhibition that is more pertinent in a library corridor than in a museum gallery. As a graphic satirist Mr. Beerbohm was certainly no Daumier, no Dore, but an amateur in those traditions of slapstick grotesquery and crude, formula draftsmanship which originated with Rowlandson and which, as crystallized in Punch,  became popularly identified as the English national style of journalistic cartooning. The wit and audacity in such an idiom is not intrinsically graphic, but must, perforce, rely heavily on literary and topical context or upon the celebrity of personages irreverently depicted. It is doubtful that Beerbohm’s sketches would have any interest for us today were it not for the anecdotal value they derive from the prestige of their creator and his principal subjects in the world of letters and in the fashionable society of Edwardian England.

Mr. Kitson has a nostalgic fascination with the exteriors and interiors of solitary Civil War Gothic mansions in varying stages of decay against a backdrop of desolate landscape. On this theme he conjures a number of macabre Surrealistic fantasies peopled with cadaverous octogenarians in severe 19th-century costumes. While the fantasy situations are highly imaginative and unique, the architectural motifs and the painting technique have obvious affinities with the work of Wyeth. Employing his theme as a graphicist, however, Mr. Kitson is less derivative stylistically. Particularly evocative and poignant is his collage-drawing, The Observer, in which a fragmentary ink sketch of a figure on a gingerbread balcony is surrounded by frayed and peeling tatters of the gilded wallpaper of the period.

––Palmer D. French