The Art Of Trickery: How Magicians are seen in Paintings, Prints and Cartoons by Ian Keable

Our February lecture, ‘The Art of Trickery,’ was given by Ian Keable a former accountant now a magician.

Two of the earliest representations of magicians are from the Low Countries.
“The Juggler” from 1494 by the school of Bosch shows a magician performing the cup and balls trick – at the same time the foolish punter is being pick-pocketed from behind.  Bruegel’s 1565 print “Fall of the Magician Hermogenes” tells the story of St James and the magician featuring both the cup and balls and the decapitation of John the Baptist.  Another favourite trick.

The first named magician was Isaac Faux who featured in Hogarth’s “Summer Fair”; a highly successful conjuror he performed widely including for George II. His most popular trick was the eggs and bag (often also producing a hen).

In the late 18th century the cartoonists Gillray, Rowlandson and Cruikshank began to make use of magicians’ tricks to satirise the politicians of the day. This trend continues.

There are five tricks common to all magicians. 1) cups and balls – used extensively in political cartoons. 2) the travelling doll: a tiny wooden doll dressed with a cloak disappears leaving the cloak in the magician’s hand. 3) the extinguisher.  Originally performed with an assistant sitting on a table who disappears when covered by a basket. In the 19th century this was adapted using a wizard’s or a top hat.  Disraeli portrayed by Tenniel dealing with the problem of runaway slaves by appointing a royal commission is the best known of this genre. 4) sawing a woman in half, first performed in 1921 by PT Selbit at Finsbury Park Empire and never out of the magic repertoire since.

Finally, the perennial favourite in political cartoons from Gladstone through to Johnson, the rabbit from the hat – though these days not considered acceptable to rabbits.

A hugely enjoyable lecture which was accompanied by magic tricks.

Penny Davidson

Our next lecture “200 years of the National Gallery” given by Simon Whitehouse is on March 7th at 2pm.  Visitors are welcome.  For more information visit or call Niamh on 07984379925.