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Barbed Wit - Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

Barbed Wit, an exhibition of striking, large-scale designs for satirical wartime postcards (36 in total) from the archives of the Imperial War Museum, is currently on display at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art.

The postcards were cheaply printed to appeal to a mass public, providing a social, political and humorous commentary as the events of World War I unfolded.

As well as using personification and bestialisation as satirical devices, artists relied on caricature. For example, Kaiser Wilhelm II was depicted as Medusa; while in Armed Neutrality, Vittorio Emanuele III was shown as a diminutive figure peeping out of an excessively armoured suit yet shackled by the chains of indecision.

However, such treatment wasn’t confined to the famous. Various sectors of the Italian people were criticised for their action or conversely, their inaction. Hence the prosperous bourgeoisie were typified as materialistic war-profiteers who lacked patriotic duty.

Postcards first appeared in Austria in 1869 and became increasingly popular across Europe and America, reaching a so-called ‘golden age’ at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Barbed Wit runs until March 18, 2007.