David Low (cartoonist)

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Sir David Low
David Low (cartoonist) 1947.jpg
Born(1891-04-07)7 April 1891
Died19 September 1963(1963-09-19) (aged 72)
Kensington, London, England

Sir David Alexander Cecil Low (7 April 1891 – 19 September 1963) was a New Zealand political cartoonist and caricaturist who lived and worked in the United Kingdom for many years. Low was a self-taught cartoonist. Born in New Zealand, he worked in his native country before migrating to Sydney in 1911, and ultimately to London (1919), where he made his career and earned fame for his Colonel Blimp depictions and his satirising of the personalities and policies of German dictator Adolf Hitler, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and other leaders of his times.

Low was born and educated in New Zealand. His first work was published when he was only 11 years old. His professional career began at The Canterbury Times in 1910. The following year he moved to Australia and worked for The Bulletin. His work attracted the attention of Henry Cadbury, the part owner of The Star, and Low moved to London in 1919, working for that paper until 1927, when he moved to the Evening Standard. There he produced his most famous work, chronicling the rise of fascism in the 1930s, the policy of Appeasement, and the conflict of the Second World War. His provocative depictions of Hitler and Mussolini led to his work being banned in Italy and Germany, and his being named in The Black Book.


Early life[edit]

Ye Madde Designer, 1935

The son of chemist David Brown Low and Jane Caroline Flanagan, David Low was born in Dunedin on 7 April 1891, and attended primary school there. His family later moved to Christchurch, where Low briefly attended Christchurch Boys' High School. However following the death of his eldest brother, Low was taken out of school, as his parents believed that he had been weakened by over studying. Low's first cartoon was published in 1902, when he was 11 years old, a three-picture strip in the British comic Big Budget.[1]

Early career[edit]

Low began his career as a professional cartoonist with the Canterbury Times in 1910. In 1911 he moved to Sydney, Australia to join The Bulletin. During his employment at The Bulletin, Low became well known for a 1916 cartoon satirising Billy Hughes, then the Prime Minister of Australia, entitled The Imperial Conference. After that success, Low published many cartoons depicting Hughes' forceful and eccentric personality. Hughes was not impressed and apparently called Low a "bastard" to his face.[2] A collection of Low's cartoons of Hughes entitled The Billy Book, which he published in 1918, brought Low to the notice of Henry Cadbury, part-owner of the London Star. In 1919 Cadbury offered Low a job with the Star, which Low promptly accepted.

Move to England[edit]

In England, Low worked initially at the London Star from 1919 to 1927. The London Star sympathised with his own moderately left-wing views. In 1927, he accepted an invitation from Max Aitken to join the conservative Evening Standard on the strict understanding that there would be no editorial interference with his output. Low produced numerous cartoons about the Austrian Civil War, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the 1936 Summer Olympics, the Spanish Civil War, and other events of the interwar period. He also worked with Horace Thorogood to produce illustrated whimsical articles on the London scene, under the byline "Low & Terry".

John Gunther called Low "the greatest caricaturist in the world".[3] In 1937, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels told British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax that British political cartoons, particularly those of Low's, were damaging Anglo-German relations. In 1937 Low had produced an occasional strip about "Hit and Muss" (Hitler and Mussolini), but after Germany made official complaints he substituted a composite dictator, "Muzzler".[4] After the war, Low is said to have found his name in The Black Book, the list of those the Nazis planned to arrest in the aftermath of an invasion of Great Britain.[5]

Second World War[edit]

Rendezvous, 20 September 1939.

His works are featured in many British history textbooks. On 1 September, the Germans invaded Poland from the west and, on 17 September, the Soviets invaded from the east. Low depicted these events in one of his most famous cartoons, Rendezvous, first published in the Evening Standard on 20 September 1939.[6] It satirises the cynicism which lay at the heart of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, showing Hitler and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin bowing politely across the dead body of Poland, but nevertheless greeting each other respectively as "the scum of the earth, I believe?" and "the bloody assassin of the workers, I presume?". The words are based on those supposedly used by Henry Morton Stanley at his meeting with David Livingstone in 1871, and the dictators are shown raising their hats to one another in greeting similarly to the two explorers in artistic reconstructions of that earlier meeting. The work has been parodied by several other cartoonists.[7]

The Harmony Boys of 2 May 1940[8] depicts Hitler, Stalin, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and Spanish dictator Francisco Franco "harmonizing" and getting along quite well. When this cartoon was published, the German invasion of the Soviet Union was still more than a year in the future.

His satirical works met much criticism in the British public eye. The British press called him a "war monger," and many citizens felt disdain for his depictions of appeasement.

Remainder of career[edit]

Low remained in the United Kingdom for the rest of his career. He left the Evening Standard in 1950. That same year, he moved to the Daily Herald and stayed there until 1953. Finally, Low moved to the Manchester Guardian and was there from 1953.

Low received a knighthood in the 1962 Birthday Honours and died at his home in London on 19 September 1963.[9][10] His obituary in The Guardian described him as "the dominant cartoonist of the western world".[11]

A blue plaque commemorates Low at 33 Melbury Court, Kensington.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Low married Madeline Grieve Kenning of Auckland on 7 June 1920 in St. Paul's Church, Covent Garden; they lived for many years in Golders Green, North London.[1] The couple had two daughters: in 1939, Time described Low's breakfast as "a political meeting, with the cartoonist, his wife, and his two young daughters threshing out the news." His wife and daughters survived him.[1]


Self portrait

United Kingdom

Political Cartoon Gallery 16 Lower Richmond Road, London SW15 1JP Collection of Low's original cartoons from the Evening Standard and The Manchester Guardian, as well as original caricatures from his New Statesman series.


  • National Library of Australia: The Collection holds 57 original drawings and 22 photo-lithographs individually catalogued with a number digitised (including drawings relating to The Billy Book); the Newspapers Collection holds many thousands of Low's cartoons, although none are digitised at present.

Selected works[edit]

  • Low's Annual (1908)
  • The Billy Book (1918)
  • Sketches by Low (1926)
  • Lions and Lambs (1928)
  • The Autocracy of Mr. Parham by H.G. Wells (1930), illustrator; German edition, Der Diktator (P. Zsolnay, 1931)
  • Low's Russian Sketchbook (1932)
  • Low & Terry (1934) with Horace Thorogood
  • The Modern Rake's Progress (1934) with Rebecca West
  • Low Again (1938)
  • A Cartoon History of Our Times (1939)
  • Europe since Versailles (1940)
  • All behind you (1940)[13]
  • Europe at War (1941)
  • The World at War(1942) [14]
  • Years of Wrath: A Cartoon History 1932–45 (1949)
  • Low Visibility: A Cartoon History 1945–53 (1953)
  • Autobiography (M. Joseph, 1956), 387 pp., LCCN 57-577
  • The Fearful Fifties: A History of the Decade (1960)
  • Low and the Dictators (2009) by Timothy S. Benson[15]
  • David Low Censored (2019) by Timothy S. Benson ISBN 9781999646844 Political Cartoon Society


  1. ^ a b c Low, Sir David Alexander Cecil (1891–1963). Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 3 December 2016.
  2. ^ "Air raid, Sir! Take cover!". National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 22 September 2013.
  3. ^ Gunther, John (1940). Inside Europe. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 289.
  4. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  5. ^ Exhibition celebrates the 20th Century's greatest cartoonist, BBC Worldwide Press Releases. Retrieved on 14 October 2008.
  6. ^ "LSE2692 - Rendezvous". British Cartoon Archive. University of Kent. Retrieved 19 September 2021.
  7. ^ O'Connell, John [@jdpoc] (19 September 2021). "THIS DAY in 1939, Punch [SIC] published this iconic David Low cartoon, 'Rendezvous', on the occasion of the Nazi-Soviet pact. It has been parodied often, but never bettered" (Tweet) – via Twitter. et seq.
  8. ^ "Study of Propaganda & War – History:Introduction". University of Kent. Archived from the original on 30 May 2009. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
  9. ^ "No. 42683". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 June 1962. p. 4308.
  10. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  11. ^ "Obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  12. ^ "LOW, SIR DAVID (1891–1963)". English Heritage. Retrieved 1 July 2012.
  13. ^ "Search Results".
  14. ^ "Vintage Penguin the World at War by David Low Cartoons | #272810290".
  15. ^ Benson, Dr Timothy S. (2008). Low and the Dictators. Political Cartoon Gallery. Political Cartoon Society. ISBN 978-09549-0087-8. Retrieved 23 November 2017.

External links[edit]