S&H Exhibition Review

Gerard Hoffnung Exhibition: The British Cartoon Centre London

Gerard Hoffnung would have been 75 this year. To celebrate this anniversary, the British Cartoon Centre is holding an exhibition of Hoffnung's cartoons until February 18th 2001.

I'm sure Hoffnung would have appreciated the irony of his art - epitomised by over-weight divas, satirical composer portraits and suburban musical scenes - appearing in the concrete metropolis of London's Brunswick Centre. With its lopsided pavements, crumbling façade, broken windows and clientele of hedonists, bag ladies and transients, it more than resembled one of Hoffnung's darker drawings. Shabby Christmas decorations provide the only brightness as they are reflected through puddles that sit gracelessly outside shop fronts. It would have been laughable were it not for the fact this was not a cartoon.

Don't let this put you off - because the exhibition is one of the more interesting things to see in London at the moment.

Whether intended or otherwise, the orchestral disarray so frequently penned by Hoffnung, seems to have been copied in the set up of this exhibition. Alphabetical listings don't always match the framed cartoons - with a placed beside h, b beside f, and so on. Having a copy of the free exhibition guide is probably essential. It is all slightly mysterious, but never detracts from the reason for being there - seeing these endlessly amusing cartoons.

There are some really outstanding exhibits on show - my favourites being the portrait of a bull fighter, aka Manuel de Falla, in a semi-circular bull-ring, and a wondrous little piece full of composers' autographs -simply titled 'Cacophony'. The famous orchestra drawings are there - laid out in this exhibition into sections of strings, timpani, woodwind and brass. Hoffnung's famous soprano's, girdled in flowing gowns, and always amply bosomed, are regular visitors between the concert interludes and the more graphically inventive attempts to draw orchestral sounds.

There is an unspoilt, honest humour to many of these drawings. Mostly they are in black and white, but there are also a few staggeringly rich coloured ones - and some notable front page cartoons from the much more celebrated Punch of the old days. The Punch of today, so often an invisible magazine (is it even being published, I ask) stands as a metaphor for today's musical cartoons in general: a lavish past all but reduced to faded, unspeakable semi-glory. Hoffnung's tragedy was to have died so young (at the age of 34) - for few cartoonists, if any, had the ability to teach us all about music in such an astonishingly humorous, and straight forward, way. There was nothing complex about Hoffnung's art - just that desire to make music fun. Which he did.

Opening nights, tainted by red wine you never seem able to find anywhere else, have their advantages (even if that is never one of them). Harry Enfield provided the speech - mostly in a pseudo-Hoffnung accent - and read letters from many who had known the artist. From a school teacher in pre-war Berlin to a prisoner Hoffnung visited on one of his many prison visits in London, the memories always appeared to be lasting ones - and often had a mischievous sense of humour attached to them somewhere.

The exhibition runs until 18 February. It's well worth a visit.

The British Cartoon Centre, 60 Brunswick Centre, Bernard Street, London WC1N 1AF  020-7278 8337

Marc Bridle

The official Gerard Hoffnung website

Seen&Heard is part of Music on the Web(UK) Webmaster: Len Mullenger Len@musicweb-international.com

Return to: Seen&Heard Index  

Return to: Music on the Web