cartoonist and caricaturist, was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, on 7 April 1891 [not 1892 as commonly stated;. see NZ Dictionary of Biography entry by Susan E. Foster], third son in the family of four children of David Brown Low, a pharmacist from Scotland, and New-Zealand-born Jane Caroline, née Flanagan. Soon after his birth the family moved to Christchurch where David was educated. According to the Kent (UK) and NZ cartoon centres (Colin Seymour-Ure) and the NZDB, his first published cartoon appeared in the British comic Big Budget in 1902, when he was aged 11. It was followed by him winning (and continuing to win) a monthly children’s drawing competition held by Melbourne’s New Idea and also publishing his first cartoon on public affairs, a comment on a local council controversy, in the Christchurch satirical weekly Spectator (co-founded by cartoonist William Blomfield ) that same year. In 1903 Low left school (still aged 11) and joined the Spectator , where he was paid five shillings a week for two gag drawings.

In 1905 he attended a business college for a couple of years, but his study suffered due to his continuing work as a cartoonist and he failed his final examination. He also enrolled at the Canterbury School of Art but disliked its emphasis on conventional technique. He drew anti-smoking and anti-gambling cartoons for the Salvation Army’s War Cry in 1906 and was an occasional police-court sketcher on New Zealand Truth 1906-10. In 1907 he joined the new, short-lived, weekly Sketcher owned by caricaturist Fred Rayner, where he was paid two pounds a week. When it folded, he re-joined the Spectator (in 1908) as the full-time political cartoonist for this 'circumspect voice of liberalism’, drawing two full-page and four smaller cartoons and caricatures a week, although the Spectator 's co-owner, the politician G.W. Russell, finally objected to him simultaneously drawing political cartoons for the radical new Labor Party weekly, the Weekly Herald (Wellington).

In 1910 Low left Wellington to work in Christchurch on the technically superior (Liberal) Canterbury Times which had been using process engraving since 1895, hired for five pounds a week to do larger (full-page) cartoons (1911 examples ill. Grant 83, 84, 86). According to Grant (following Low’s Autobiography ), paper and man parted company when Low refused to draw cartoons approving compulsory military training (conscription) in 1911 – although in Sydney he followed the Bulletin line and was pro-conscription. A far more compelling reason was the prospect of a job in Sydney. After posting copies of his work to 20 Australian editors each week marked 'URGENT PERSONAL’, he was invited to join the Melbourne office of the Sydney Bulletin on a six-month contract in 1911. Aged 21 (acc. Caban) or 22 (acc. Lindesay, Moore et al) he moved to Melbourne.

After his contract expired, he travelled around Australia doing caricatures of local notables for the Bulletin – leading to a book of 400 caricatures published in 1915 and 'A useful prelude to a career as a full-blown political cartoonist for the Bulletin ', he noted in Low’s Autobiography (quoted Caban, 34-35). He worked in Sydney as a general cartoonist in 1913 then in 1914 was appointed the official Melbourne staff cartoonist, complementing Norman Lindsay who had become the Sydney political cartoonist in 1913 after Hop retired. Melbourne being the de-facto capital, Low concentrated on the federal political scene. He drew numerous caricatures for the Bulletin , including many non-political ones, e.g. Bob Croll of the A.A.A. Vic published 7 February 1916 (original Josef Lebovic 1997 cat.34, $790). Low was a Melbourne Savage, as was Croll and Bernard O’Dowd, Poet (Low print published 20 February 1919, Lebovic cat.35, $790). His excellent caricature of 'Prof’ Frederick McCubbin is in the Melbourne Savage Club collection. The ML Bulletin collection has 13 original cartoons and 174 caricatures of 1912-39, all of men; 10 date from 1914-30 while three politicians are undated (acc. index).

Low also contributed to the Lone Hand . Examples include the caricature series, Writers and Artists of Australia (1 June 1914, 30; 1 April 1914, 318), and the cover for February 1914 showing an Aboriginal woman leering at a swimming child at the beach captioned The sea hath its pearls , a racist parody of Margetson’s painting of the same title which was one of the most popular works in the AGNSW at the time.

Low claimed he learned to draw by copying cartoons from London Punch . He said he was also influenced by the 'cheerful vulgarity’ of the English children’s paper Comic Cuts . His Bulletin predecessor Phil May certainly influenced him greatly (though that influence was not mentioned in his autobiography). Initially, he drew with a pen, but later used a brush over a pencil sketch; indeed, he more or less pioneered brush drawing in Australia. He drew the Bulletin 's main weekly cartoon from Melbourne while Norman Lindsay drew Sydney’s. 'I could hardly speak to him for reverence’, Low recalled, yet he nevertheless drew a cartoon featuring an artist looking very like Lindsay entitled Justification for his extinction , published 9 May 1918, 24. 'Like all ruthless gogetters, Low was not a likable man’, was Lindsay’s verdict (quoted Caban, 37; Rolfe, 231).

Low’s second published cartoon anthology The Billy Book (Sydney, 1918) on Prime Minister Billy Hughes made him famous; some 60,000 copies were sold. It includes Billiwog, London’s latest craze ('No war is complete without one’). Originals are held in the NLA, the Melbourne Savage Club and elsewhere. Hughes is said to have torn up the book and thrown it into a corner of the room when given a copy by one of his ministers (Caban, 36). Low wrote that the dislike was mutual. Nevertheless, Hughes made his Australian reputation. Later examples include Hughes’s vision of the Peace Conference (published Bulletin 12 December 1918, 10) and The Circus leaves for Home (published 10 July 1919). The pen and ink and brush and ink, pencil and white original of the latter is in the AGNSW, purchased from the Geoff K. Gray auction on 18/12/1970 when lots of Low’s cartoons of Hughes were sold.

He shared a studio in Melbourne with Hal Gye , whom he caricatured in Some Writers and Artists along with Alf Vincent , George Dancey , David Souter , Hugh McCrae et al. (there is some speculation that Max Meldrum is also among the caricatures in this publication, original SLV). They also appeared in Low’s Caricatures (Sydney, Tyrell, 1915), the book of 400 caricatures covering his Australian/ Bulletin years. Gye returned the compliment and drew Low as a wild savage en route to London for a Melbourne Savage Club Smoke Concert in 1919 (see Joan Kerr 'Savages and Blackfellows’ lecture). Low drew the club’s bookplate and several concert programmes, e.g. 124th Smoke Night Programme cover of a dancing Aboriginal woman and an Aboriginal man playing an accordion in honour of Marshall Hall’s Australian opera (see Savages lecture). The originals are still in the Club.

Unlike May, Hop and Lindsay, Low was renowned for supplying his own ideas for political cartoons. Rolfe (p.263) claims he was the only Bulletin cartoonist entirely confident of expressing political views until Tanner was appointed in the 1960s. Even so, like Hughes and the Bulletin , he became pro-conscription in Australia, e.g. At Berlin If Australia Voted No (poster ML PAM. Q355.22/C). When drafted, it is said, he – or the Bulletin on his behalf – filed a successful claim for exemption. (There is some speculation that he was drafted to the New Zealand army as the conscription referendum in Australia was lost and nobody was 'drafted’, but everyone repeats it, even Seymour-Ure.)

Like his employers, Low was virulently anti-communist, e.g. Could You Oblige Me With A Match? [to light the wick of a bomb], Bulletin 1 May 1919 (ill. King, 116; original in Melbourne Savage Club), and Splicing the main-brace 1919, with the Seaman’s Union as a priest marrying virginal Labor to the evil Communist Movement (ill. King, 116). It inspired a very similar cartoon, Harry’s Fond Dream (with murderous Bolshevism, i.e. Labour, being married to a weeping 'The Churches’ by the Communist (?) Harry Holland) by John H. Gee. Gee’s cartoon appeared in the NZ Free Lance in 1924 (ill. Grant, 116) – evidence of Low’s continuing influence back home and the continuing import of cartoonists and export of cartoons across the Tasman.

Having just as assiduously sent examples of his work to London from Melbourne as he had from New Zealand to Australia (and London), Low moved there after nine years – in 1919 when aged 28 – the success of the Billy Book having led to a contract from the London Star . A cartoon self-portrait, Off to London ( Bulletin August (?) 1919, ill. Seymour-Ure frontispiece), shows a jaunty Low pushing a wheelbarrow piled high with trunk, swag, lay figure, sketchbook and an easel with a pot labelled 'gall’ hanging from it. The last was particularly evident in his farewell letter to the Bulletin (quoted Rolfe, 267) in which he bitterly denounced Australian self-complacency and meanness of spirit.

Low worked in England for the rest of his life. Early on he used Lloyd George as another Hughes; his Lloyd George and Co was published in 1921. Many cartoon books followed and he also contributed to Punch . In 1926 he joined the Daily Express , but the following year he was engaged by Lord Beaverbrook for the Tory Evening Standard at a salary larger than that paid to any other cartoonist in London. (He was 35.) In 1933 his cartoons satirising Hitler and the Nazi regime, which date from 1927, were banned in Germany; in 1935 he was banned in Italy for satirising Mussolini.

Low stayed with the Evening Standard until 1949, earning up to £3,000 p.a., making a major international reputation and eventually seeing his cartoons syndicated in about 40 newspapers. His best-known character was Colonel Blimp, created in 1934 – a household name during WWII. A.J.P. Taylor ( Beaverbrook 1972, 594-95) described Low’s resignation as the 'gravest event’ for Beaverbrook newspapers in 1949. Early in 1950 he joined the Daily Herald , a Labour newspaper with a readership of two million (three times larger than that of the Evening Standard ) citing 'restlessness’ as his motive. In 1952 he was enticed to the Manchester Guardian , where he remained for the rest of his life, being paid more than either the editor or the managing director (Seymour-Ure 1975, 13).

In 1962 Low accepted the knighthood he had declined in the 1930s (Seymour-Ure 1995, p.12). When he died on 19 September 1963, aged 72, the British press called him 'the dominant cartoonist of the Western world’. It was a reputation he had enjoyed for more than 30 years (Lindesay 1979, 24 & 1994, 92). In 1920 he had cabled a marriage proposal to Madeline Grieve Kenning, a New Zealander from Auckland whom he had met during a three-day stopover en route to London from Australia. They married in London and had two daughters (Mrs Prudence Rowe-Evans and Dr Rachael Whear), all of whom survived him {according to NZDB: 1995 Seymour-Ure mentions only two daughters surviving him}

Images include Imperial Conference. 'Asquith: “David, talk to him in Welsh and pacify him!”’ Bulletin 28 September 1916 (ill. Caban, 33; Harris, 232; King, 108; Rolfe, 264, 266). The day after it appeared masses of telegrams and letters, even flowers, arrived at the Bulletin office. The Governor-General sent an aide to Low’s office to ask for the original for the Commonwealth Parliament; Hughes had to sign 20 copies for members of the British Cabinet and Lloyd George had to have two. 'Too full of lines’ was Low’s own public verdict. NLA apparently has the original 1916 Federal Parliament pen and ink drawing [NK 660/3A] (which has three figures only), titled Imperial Conference: The Firebrand and the Fossils. 'Asquith: “David, talk to him in Welsh and pacify him!” The complementary A Labour Conference 1916 shows Hughes cowering against trade unionists: 'Pearce: “Sing them 'The Red Flag’, Billy, and pacify them.”’(ill. Caban, 33; Rolfe, 265).

David Low, Editorial meeting at the Bulletin c.1913, which shows William Macleod, the managing editor and chief shareholder seated on a throne, Hop, S.H. Prior (looking meek) and editor James Edmond talking to J.F. Archibald, the founder and guiding spirit, seated at the opposite end of the table to Macleod (original ML, republished Edmond obituary, Bulletin 29 March 1933, 28 and in J. Kerr, Artists and Cartoonists 1999).

Kerr, Joan
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