The collection of the Dutch House of Representatives has approximately 5,000 political cartoons stored on its shelves. It is a part of a collection that has hardly been used before, but gives modern readers a unique insight in Dutch politics from the late nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. Because of their aesthetic appeal and recognisable themes, persons and leading motives, they are characteristic of the experience of Dutch politics by Dutch citizens. They were the audience for which the cartoons were made, although the political preference of the audience could differentiate between the newspapers and magazines in which the cartoons were published.
By Henriët Graafland
1. The Cartoonist and the Virus
This cartoon shows how some (political) themes of a century ago are still relevant today and discussed in current politics. In this cartoon, the artist, Johan Braakensiek, has drawn himself, ill and in bed because of the Influenza that raged over Europa at the end of the First World War. With the current situation around the Covid-19 virus, the analogy is unmistakeable.
2. Soup Kettle Containers in Context
On the other hand, there are cartoons that portray situations and discussions that are unfamiliar to modern audience. This cartoon is about the so-called ‘soup kettle container order’, which was a discussion on the equipment of Dutch soldiers. Only because of contemporary newspapers, the author could discover what this cartoon was about, but sometimes, modern readers can no longer find the context for political cartoons.
3. Amsterdam Traffic Problems
On another level of analysis, political cartoons are interesting in order to review the connections between local, national and global news, news perception and political debates. Because De Telegraaf and De Amsterdammer were both published in Amsterdam, not only national politics were discussed and made fun of, but local politics as well. A lot of the cartoons in the collection of the Dutch House of Representatives are about Amsterdam politicians of the early twentieth century, often only retraceable via current street names of Amsterdam. This cartoon specifically dealt with problems created by forms of traffic in Amsterdam, i.e., the automobile.
4. Cartoons As We Know Them
Another part of the collection is deserving of the name “political cartoons” the most, since they deal with national politics in the Netherlands. The most well-known politicians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were known and recognised by citizens mostly from these cartoons. Television was not invented yet, let alone fully integrated in daily live. Cartoonists therefore had some freedom in how they portrayed the politicians. But they always drew them in the same way, making the politicians recognisable for readers that read the newspapers every day. This is why cartoonists often made use of stereotypes of persons: to clearly distinguish the various politicians and their supposed features.
On this particular cartoon, the politicians portrayed are (from left to right): Meinhard Tydeman, Herman Goeman Borgesius, Pieter Jelles Troelstra, Alexander Frederik de Savornin Lohman, Abraham Kuyper and Theo Heemskerk.
5. The Usual Suspects: John Bull, Marianne and the Czar
Surprisingly, a lot of the cartoons in the collection of the Dutch House of Representatives deal not with local or national politics, but with international politics as well. The nineteenth and early twentieth-century newspapers and their cartoonists closely followed the news from abroad, like the current newspapers still do. In order for the cartoonists to easily portray the countries that were closest to the Netherlands, they used personifications of those countries. This is why “John Bull”, “Marianne”, “Michel” and “Jonathan” feature in the cartoons often. Those are the personifications for respectively England, France, Germany and the United States of America.
In this cartoon, a combination of the personifications and other important European leaders of state in 1898 are shown. The angel flying above them is the Russian czar, Nicolas II. Beneath him sit (from left to right) the Italian king Umberto I, John Bull, the German emperor Wilhelm II, The Austrian-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph I, Marianne and Jonathan.