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Introduction
Thomas Nast and New Orleans
You are in "Thomas Nast's Grand Caricaturama"
Nast and Degas by Albert I. Boime
Thomas Nast's contribution to "A Cotton Office in New Orleans"
 
The Grand Caricaturama
In 1867, Nast created the Grand Caricaturama, which was exhibited in New York beginning December 4, 1867, and in Boston beginning March 30, 1868. It consisted of 33 large paintings each one eight feet high by twelve feet wide.
 
As seated audiences watched in delight, the pictures were moved across the stage; they were accompanied by a spoken narration and relevant piano pieces. Both the press and the audiences were favorable impressed.
 
Two of the 33 pictures dealt with New Orleans. The Massacre of New Orleans showed Andrew Johnson hiding in a building while the July 1866 rioting went on nearby. A tune called Oh, Fatal Hour was played to highlight it.

"The Massacre of New Orleans" painted by Thomas Nast
"The Massacre of New Orleans",
Painted by Thomas Nast
for "The Grand Caricaturama"

 
The other picture called King Cotton was accompanied by Way Down South in Dixie as the program listed it. The description below was written by art historian Lloyd Goodrich for a 1970 museum exhibition under the auspices of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Smithsonian Institution.
 

"King Cotton" painted by Thomas Nast
"King Cotton", Painted by Thomas Nast
for "The Grand Caricaturama"

A skinny old king with hair and beard of cotton, a huge oversize crown on his head, a whip in his hand, sits on his throne, while Negro slaves bring him cool drinks, and female slaves fan him. Britannia and Napoleon III prostrate themselves before him and deposit their crowns at his feet—a reminder that during the Civil War the governments and manufacturing interests of some European states, dependent on Southern cotton, had sided with the Confederacy.
 
The base of the dais is inscribed "Slavery." In the elaborate ornamentation around the throne the repeated "C. S. A." is of course "Confederate States of America." The S’s and C’s are copperheads. The crocodiles in the proscenium arch refer to the National Union Convention of 1866, an attempt to unite conservatives of both parties, North and South, behind the President’s policies. At the opening, Governor James Orr of South Carolina and General Darius Couch of Massachusetts had entered arm-in-arm, symbolizing the reconciliation of the two old enemies, while the band played "The Star-spangled Banner" and "Dixie," and everybody wept. Nast in a cartoon, "The Tearful Convention," had ridiculed this by a crocodile and a copperhead arm-in-arm, both weeping; and thereafter the two reptiles played a leading part in his cartoons.

The throne-room is crowded with militant leaders of the Confederacy, shown as knights in armor, heavily burlesqued. Their armor is a fantasy of grotesque shapes, with sharp aggressive points projecting all over, long plumes, and helmets like the heads of geese, serpents and pigs. Their weapons are ludicrously large and cumbersome. The tall figure at the left, crowned with horns and sitting on a shield with the emblem of a circle, probably represents the recently spawned Ku Klux Klan, whose name was said to be based on the Greek word for circle, kyklos. To terrify Negroes, Klan members often donned disguises to increase their height, with fancy features such as horns. It is perhaps significant that the faces of most of the knights are concealed by their helmets.

The whole pictorial concept is theatrical: the strutting figures with their bogus arms and armor, posing as if before footlights; the stage and its charade; the baroque architecture and decoration—all reflect Nast’s love of the theater, and his effective use of theatrical devices to ridicule his enemies.

Lloyd Goodrich, 1970

 

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