Ralph Barton (Ralph Barton)

Ralph Barton

Cartoonist, Illustrator. One of America’s most famous artists of the 1920s. His stylish celebrity caricatures, playful yet not mocking, became synonymous with the “Jazz Age” and were widely influential. “It is not the caricaturist’s job to be penetrating”, he said. “It is his job to put down the figure a man cuts before his fellows in his attempt to conceal the writhings of his soul”.  Ralph Waldo Emerson Barton was born in Kansas City, Missouri. His mother was a portrait painter, and in his teens he sold cartoons to local newspapers. Following a brief early marriage and even briefer study at the Art Institute of Chicago, he settled in New York City in 1913 as a contributor to the humor magazine “Puck”. Its editors sent him to France in 1915 to cover the Parisian home front during World War I; the experience turned him into an ardent Francophile and from then on he divided his time between Manhattan and Paris. His style showed the influence of Aubrey Beardsley before evolving into Art Deco sleekness.  Barton’s fame really took off after the war, when he began portraying stars of the arts and entertainment worlds, often in fanciful group portraits. He commanded $1500 per drawing for such leading publications as “Vanity Fair”, and his designs appeared on silk scarves and other fashion accessories. In 1922 he caused a sensation with his intermission curtain for the popular Broadway revue “Chauve Souris”, featuring 139 celebrity caricatures staring back at the audience. Barton was an artistic advisor for the magazine “The New Yorker” from its 1925 inception, and that same year he illustrated Anita Loos’ classic novel “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”. He also photographed and directed a home movie version of “Camille” (1926), which combined staged scenes with shots of dozens of international notables clowning or just posing for Barton’s camera, linked together with ironic intertitles. It survives as a fascinating curio. Barton’s success masked a troubled personal life. Having “climbed out of the Kansas City mud” (as he was fond of saying), he reinvented himself as a foppish bon vivant who travelled widely and seemed to know everybody who was anybody. He was particularly good friends with Charlie Chaplin. But he was plagued by depression and a lack of self-esteem that drove him to reckless behavior. “The human soul would be a hideous object if it were possible to lay it bare”, he once confessed. His three subsequent marriages, to model Anne Minnerly, actress Carlotta Monterey, and “Les Six” composer Germaine Tailleferre, all ended in divorce because of his compulsive philandering; he never got over Carlotta, who he claimed was the only woman he ever really loved. (She later married playwright Eugene O’Neill). The failure of his book “God’s Country” (1929), a satirical view of American history through drawings, and the onset of the Depression marked a downturn in his popularity. In January 1931, Chaplin tried to raise Barton’s spirits by inviting him as his travelling companion on an extended tour of Europe. The cartoonist started the journey well enough, but once they arrived in London he refused to leave their hotel and began exhibiting signs of paranoia. He returned home alone after only a few weeks.  Fearing he was going insane, Barton shot himself in his Manhattan apartment shortly before his 40th birthday. His suicide note read in part, “I have run from wife to wife, from house to house and from country to country in a ridiculous effort to escape from myself”. He also left $35 to his housekeeper with a note apologizing that it was all he had. His ashes were returned to Kansas City, the hometown he proudly thought he had put behind him. Barton was quickly forgotten after his death; a few years later an original Barton caricature sold for $5. Renewed interest in his work began in the late 1960s. (bio by: Bobb Edwards)  Family links:  Parents:  Abraham P Barton (1845 – 1914)  Josephine Catherine Wigginton Barton (1847 – 1935)  Spouses:  Carlotta Monterey O’Neill (1888 – 1970)  Germaine Tailleferre (1892 – 1983)  Sibling:  Vivien Ethel Barton Klein (1876 – 1933)*  Ralph Barton (1891 – 1931) *Calculated relationship


  • August, 14, 1891
  • USA


  • May, 05, 1931
  • USA


  • Mount Moriah Cemetery
  • Missouri
  • USA

2921 profile views