August 31, 2008

The Art of Ralph Barton

Ralph Barton (1891 - 1931) was born in Kansas City, Missouri. He lived in New York City, during the 1920s at the height of his career. As an illustrator and a caricaturist, he was in popular demand for magazines such as Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan and Life. He often travelled to Paris. He painted for magazines and publishers. Some of his famous illustrations can be found in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” by Anita Loos.

(Barton, Ralph. Monk surrounded by dragonfly and god with incense burner in his hand.)

Barton, suffering from depression, commited suicide in 1931. He shot himself in the head. The following is quoted from his suicide note; I think it speaks for itself.

Quote from Ralph Barton's Suicide Note:

Everyone who has known me and who hears of this will have a different hypothesis to offer, to explain ‘why I did it’. Practically all of these hypotheses will be dramatic and completely wrong. Any sane doctor knows that the reasons for suicide are invariably psychopathological.

Difficulties in life merely precipitate the event and the true suicide type manufactures his own difficulties. I have had few real difficulties. I have had on the contrary an exceptionally glamorous life, as lives go, and I’ve had more than my share of affection and appreciation.

The most charming, intelligent and important people I have known have liked me and the list of my enemies is very flattering to me.

(Barton, Ralph. Unknown. Illustration from Vanity Fair, September 1921.)

I’ve always had excellent health, but since my early childhood, I have suffered with a melancholy which in the past five years has begun to show signs of manic depressive insanity.

It has prevented me from getting anything like the full value out of my talents and for the past three years has made work a torture to do at all. It has made it impossible for me to enjoy the simple pleasures of life that seem to get other people through.

(Barton, Ralph. Captain Smoking on Deck. Illustraion from Illustraion House Inc.)

I have run from wife to wife, from house to house and from country to country in a ridiculous effort to escape from myself. In doing so, I am very much afraid that I’ve spread a good deal of unhappiness among the people who have loved me.

Yes, this is depressing...although, without Ralph Barton's tortured creative spirit, we might not have had these wonderful works of art for others to enjoy in the years to come.

Enjoy :)