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Sambourne House

‘The First Cartoonist’: Linley Sambourne and Punch Magazine

Discover how Sambourne became Chief Cartoonist at the famous satirical magazine Punch.

Edward Linley Sambourne, Preface for Punch Magazine, December 1898.

Linley Sambourne exercised his talent for drawing from a young age, creating amusing caricatures in his spare time. For someone who would go on to make a living out of drawing, he received very little artistic training.  His aunt Jane Barr, an accomplished watercolourist, provided some guidance. At 16 Sambourne spent three months studying at South Kensington School of Art, but left  in the same year to be apprenticed to John Penn & Son, marine engineers based in Greenwich. Here Sambourne’s artistic talent did not go unnoticed, and he was promoted to the Drawing Office.

In 1867, Sambourne experienced his first breakthrough when a selection of his whimsical sketches were shown to Mark Lemon, editor of the prestigious magazine, Punch, by the father of fellow employee Alfred German Reed. Lemon was suitably impressed and in April that year, Sambourne’s first drawing - a decorated ‘T’ depicting the influential reform politician and orator John Bright - was published in the popular periodical. Sambourne was only 23 years old.

The beauty of line and of silhouette which he sought and obtained, in spite of his intense, almost aggressive individuality, placed him absolutely apart from all the black-and-white artists of the day.
Marion Harry Spielmann, art critic and editor

Punch magazine

Founded in 1841, the magazine’s name was hit upon at an early meeting – an attendee remarked that the publication should be like a good Punch mixture – nothing without Lemon, referring to editor Mark Lemon, whereupon founder Henry Mayhew declared ‘A capital idea! Let us call the paper Punch!’ The title was also inspired by the provocative glove puppet, Mr. Punch, of Punch and Judy.

Acclaimed for its acerbic wit, Punch captured life during the 19th and 20th centuries in astute detail and became one of the most illustrious publications of its time. Staff met every Wednesday to discuss material for the next edition, which was decided over a convivial dinner. The drawings, also referred to as cartoons or ‘cuts’ had to be completed by Friday night, when they were sent to the engravers.

Punch is credited with coining the term ‘cartoon’ as we know it today. The creators behind its much-loved illustrations included John Tenniel, John Leech, George du Maurier, Phil May and of course, Sambourne – who all became household names. In addition, the periodical attracted great comic writers and poets over the years, including William Thackeray and later P.G. Wodehouse and Sir John Betjeman.  

Edward Linley Sambourne, Annual Calendar for Punch Magazine, 1901.

Journey to Chief Cartoonist

After Sambourne made his Punch debut, he was employed on an ad hoc basis by Lemon to supply the decorated initial letters that stood at the head of articles and vignettes. In 1874, he was invited to contribute on a more regular basis and created a greater number of larger drawings. 

The 1880s marked a shift in Sambourne’s style towards realism that coincided with his burgeoning interest in photography. This began as a hobby but quickly became an integral part of his creative process. Sambourne invited models to pose for photographs, which he would use as inspiration for his weekly cartoons. In some instances, a single cartoon would combine a variety of poses. His often grotesque and fanciful caricatures of people and animals were admired by readers far and wide.

In 1900, Sir John Tenniel retired and Sambourne was promoted to Chief, or First Cartoonist – a notable achievement and the pinnacle of his career.