Ronald Searle's Greatest Drawings (Photos)

The great British cartoonist has died at the age of 91. See his best drawings.

Baron / Hulton Archive / Getty Images; Topham Picturepoint / Press Association

Baron / Hulton Archive / Getty Images; Topham Picturepoint / Press Association

Ronald Searle

The British cartoonist Ronald Searle, who died Friday in France at the age of 91, helped define modern graphic arts with his caustic humor and the inky, razor-thin lines of his drawings—a sort of British expressionism. Here are some of his signature illustrations.

St. Trinian’s

Searle is best known for St. Trinian's, a fictional English all-girl's school. It became wildly popular, and established his theme of crusty old schoolmasters and sharp-elbowed schoolgirls.

Topham Picturepoint / Press Association

Anarchy in the U.K.

St. Trinian's is famous for the wild and anarchic girls that populate the school—they were prone to acts of violence and vandalism while smiling and putting up prim-and-proper façades, and the teachers and the bureaucrats couldn't (or chose not to) do anything about it. "Hand up the girl who burnt down the East Wing last night," reads the caption for this drawing in the first St. Trinian's book in 1948.

Topham Picturepoint / Press Association

Class System

Much of the appeal of St. Trinian's was its thinly veiled social commentary—it depicted how British class structure barely masked the diabolical mischief of the very members the system was supposed to protect. The girls simmered with hatred, and Searle's feline style and acerbic wit were pitch perfect.

Postwar Life

St. Trinian's also dramatized postwar degradation. The drawings were first published in the magazine Lilliput, then made into a series of books, and later into a half-dozen films, with The Belles of St. Trinian's in 1954 being the first, and 2007's St. Trinian's the latest installment.

Covers

Searle was also a prolific illustrator for magazines, first for Lilliput, then for Punch. (George Orwell was unimpressed with the publication when he wrote in the '30s that "the last occasion when Punch produced a genuinely funny joke" was six or seven years ago—the class warrior in Orwell would not have been disappointed in Searle.) He drew some 40 covers for The New Yorker and made remarkable reportage reconstructions—including the last Commons speech by Winston Churchill and the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Isreal—for Life magazine.

Baron / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Fame

Although Searle designed title sequences for some of the St. Trinian's films, he complained bitterly about the popularity of the franchise, fearing it would overshadow everything else he's done. He so loathed the cartoons that in 1952 he blew up the school with an atomic bomb.

Books

Searle's twig-legged subjects also found themselves into many books—some were compilations of his illustrations, like 1953's Souls in Torment, and some saw Searle as a collaborator, as in the Molesworth series with Geoffrey Wilans, this time depicting the life of schoolboy Nigel Molesworth in St. Custard's prep. He also illustrated books on cats, religion, and even drew an homage to William Hogarth, his 19th-century forerunner (The Rake’s Progress).

Justin Creedy Smith, akg-images / Newscom

France

Searle lived a secluded country life in Draguignan, in southeastern France near Cannes, where he moved to in the late 1960s, presumably to escape his fame. He died in his sleep last Friday after a short illness.