[William] Cotton was one of the finest caricaturists of the early 20th century in America. Thanks to Wendy Wick Reaves in her Celebrity Caricature in America, Smithsonian Institution © 1998, we have this photo of Will and many excellent color reproductions of his work.
Will Cotton and my mentor, Harold Irving Smith, were both classmates at the Rhode Island School of Design, and to my knowledge, both lived in Newport, RI. They were both very skilled in the use of pastel, Harold for portraits and Will Cotton for these wonderful caricatures
This Will Cotton is not to be confused with a present-day painter of the same name. I'll be filling out this section with more caricatures, so please stay tuned. I love the style.
One of the most humorous caricatures I have ever seen. It just happens to be of the world's most famous acting couple, most likely depicting their performance in Elizabeth the Queen (1930).
Will Cotton, An American Tragedian [Theodore Dreiser], pastel on board, 1931. Courtesy, National Portrait Gallery
Will Cotton, Eleanor Roosevelt, illustration for Vanity Fair, 1933
Courtesy James A. Michener Art Museum archives
Will Cotton, Nicholas Murray Butler, pastel on board, 1933. Courtesy, National Portrait Gallery
Butler was a statesman, educator and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Click on link for more.
Will Cotton, [Actress] Katherine Hepburn, 1934, courtesy Condé Nast publications
Will Cotton, Frances Perkins, pastel on board, circa 1935. Courtesy, National Portrait Gallery
Frances Perkins was Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor.
Will Cotton, The Swimming Pool of the Thanatopsis Club, pastel on board, circa 1930-1935.
Courtesy, National Portrait Gallery
I highly recommend reading the text of Wendy Wick Reaves' book for her insight regarding Cotton's work, and the countless other masters of caricature in Celebrity Caricature in America. She makes the point that Vanity Fair's publisher Condé Nast's advances made in the production of four-color process printing were enhanced by the extraordinary and wonderful colors in Will Cotton's palette. Since pastelle colors when applied remain for the most part on top of the paper, instead of water based paints being absorbed by paper, it gives Cotton's printed artwork more luminosity and brilliance when printed on "calendered" or glossy stock.
What I particularly like about Cotton's work is that he doesn't stoop to ridicule his subjects except in a minimal way, letting his art carry the day. Thankfully, there is little of the grotesque in his work.