Hung, drawn and quartered: Cartoons for turbulent times

Brown for Blair, Barack for Bush, Putin for... Putin. In the year that the old world almost sank without a trace, Dave Brown takes inspiration from the great artists to capture our turbulent times
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The Independent Culture

Would the recession have riled Rembrandt, or the bailout bewildered Blake? What would Bruegel have seen in Barack, or Michelangelo have made of moose-murdering Sarah Palin?

Faced with the broad canvas of 21st-century politics, I again attempted to channel the spirits of the great painters of the past, allowing them to guide my brush in a form of ouija cartooning... whaddaya mean I'm pushing it?!

This is a selection taken from the second collection of my Rogues' Gallery cartoons from the Saturday edition of The Independent, picking up roughly where the last one left off, taking a loaded brush to the highlights and shadows of 2007, 2008 and the first months of 2009.

It depicts a period of change; a period in which many of the old masters were painted out in the search for a new style. Blair finally stood down, as Labour longed for a classical revival under Brown. France was offered a shot of hyperrealism, as Sarkozy succeeded Chirac. America hoped for renaissance under Obama, while in Russia, change was minimalist, as President Putin was replaced by... Prime Minister Putin.

All of which meant that there were new portraits to be painted and, in the case of Gordon, an old portrait to be touched up with flecks of grey hair.

Iraq and Afghanistan were also changing – for the better, if you believed the impressionist landscape that Britain and America attempted to sketch. The greatest change was in the global economy, where Byzantine banking practices tipped us all into a Vorticist spiral of debt.

In the current climate, would the ghost of Fragonard be having fun with today's ancien régime? I should rococo!

An exhibition of Dave Brown's Rogues' Gallery cartoons can be seen at the Political Cartoon Gallery, 32 Store Street, London WC1 until 12 September. The new book, 'Rogues' Gallery, More Misused Masterpieces' is available to Independent readers at the reduced price of £20 from the gallery (020-7580 1114; info@political cartoon.co.uk)



Prudence and Stability

This dates from Alistair Darling's first Budget as Chancellor. Darling seemed to be struggling to clear up the mess left by the previous incumbent of No 11... whoever he may have been.

Landseer's Victorian sentiment and anthropomorphism are not to my taste. However, those very elements of his work make him fine fodder for pastiche.

After 'Dignity and Impudence', Edwin Landseer (1839). Tate Gallery, London



The Raft of the Economy

This was drawn specifically for the new book, as I was looking for an "all in the same boat" image in the aftermath of the catastrophic global recession. It is based on Géricault's 1819 work The Raft of the Medusa.

That painting was itself a highly political statement, a searing indictment of the endemic corruption and incompetence of the recently restored Bourbon monarchy. In 1816, the French frigate La Méduse was run aground off the coast of Africa by its bungling captain, a political appointee who had not sailed in 20 years. He and his senior officers took the few seaworthy lifeboats that were available, consigning 150 passengers and crew to a hastily lashed together raft. After an ordeal involving dehydration, starvation, cannibalism, mutiny and madness, only 15 survived.

Although inspired by a specific event and aimed squarely at the prevailing regime, The Raft of the Medusa was later regarded as a profound political allegory of a wider nature. As the historian Jules Michelet tellingly wrote: "Our whole society is on that raft".

After 'The Raft of the Medusa', Théodore Géricault (1819). Musée du Louvre, Paris



The Ambassadors

Drawn on the occasion of Nicolas Sarkozy's state visit to Britain. In the foreground of Holbein's painting is a strange object which can only be properly seen by looking along the picture plane from its right-hand edge. It is an anamorphic skull, which, naturally, became George Bush.

After 'The Ambassadors', Hans Holbein the Younger (1533). National Gallery, London

Napoleon Crossing the Rubicon

President Sarkozy demonstrated his new closeness to Washington by announcing that he was sending more French troops to Afghanistan. This caused real consternation in Paris, where, following the decision, his government was forced to face its first no-confidence vote.

David's monumental image of French military glory is such an incredibly overt piece of propaganda that it cries out for a little subversive role-reversal. Under Chirac, France had made a point of standing very much apart from Bush's adventurism in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Sarkozy's keenness to become involved, at a time when the justifications behind those interventions were looking particularly shaky, seemed a little perverse to say the least. C'est la guerre, mais ce n'est pas magnifique.

After 'Napoleon Crossing the Alps', Jacques-Louis David (1799). Musée National du Château de la Malmaison, Paris

Nighthawks

In the last few days of the contest, with Obama seemingly certain to become the next President, the Republican camp was riven with backstabbing and "pre-mortems".

Loneliness is the theme most often attributed to Hopper's painting, though he discounted this, saying it was about "predators". Both descriptions apply to my version, only about different members of the Republican ticket.

After 'Nighthawks', Edward Hopper (1942). Art Institute of Chicago

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