cartoonist, illustrator, painter, sculptor and art critic, was born in Paddington, Sydney. He studied art at the J.S. Watkins School and East Sydney Technical College. In 1925, aged 16, he became a cadet artist on the Evening News (Sydney), then went to the Daily Guardian ('as little finger to the editor’s right hand’) where he 'filled the paper with half column blocks until it looked like “Comic Cuts”. Later drew a comment on the daily news strip.’ For the Sunday Guardian he illustrated Colin Wills’ Rhymes of Sydney (1933) with excellent modernist drawings (reproduced in Spearritt and in Kirkpatrick xv). He 'was sold with the “Guardian” to the Sydney Sun ', but the managing editor was said to dislike his work and he was sacked. He then drew cartoons for the Sunday News and the World , e.g. 'How Phar Lap’s American Path Could Be Made Easier’ 24 November 1931, 2. After the Depression he resurrected a news strip on the latter, which lasted for about a year. He also contributed to Smith’s Weekly , e.g. 'He did wrong by our Nell’ (a cubist artist painting a pretty young thing) 25 April 1931, 4.

WEP’s early illustrations were modernist and innovative but he is far better known as a jovial Australian Women’s Weekly illustrator, e.g. Cup Parade 7 November 1956 (ill. Lindesay WWW , 136), and Saturday Night (large coloured original Mitchell Library [ML] V*CART). He began working on the Weekly as an illustrator, e.g. 'No longer a delicately-reared young woman, she was now a throw-back to the primitive female. Her civilisation was only a veneer’ (girl clobbering a Native American with a hammer) 13 July 1935, p.7, but then became known for the long-running strip 'In and Out of Society’, for which he prepared the first mock-up dummy in June 1933. He is also remembered for his illustrations to the comic writings of Lennie Lower, first published in the Weekly in the 1930s and later in book form (e.g. Here’s Luck A&R, 1930, 11 reprints, new edn 1955 with at least two reprints, including a 1957 edition).

In the 1940s WEP drew illustrations for the service magazine Salt , e.g. “What! No letters, blokes?” 1944 (ill. Lindesay 1979, 268), and he illustrated stories in Australia: National Journal . His war cartoons mainly appeared in the Sydney Daily Telegraph – including the Sunday edition – where he was also the regular art critic. The original of his DT caricature showing all the protagonists in the 1944 Archibald Prize court case over William Dobell’s portrait of Joshua Smith, with Dobell being interrogated by Garfield Barwick, was in 'Artists and Cartoonists in Black and White’ in 1999 (borrowed from Bridget Mcdonnell Gallery, Melbourne, but held in p.c).

WEP began working at the Telegraph as an illustrator, drew a news-strip then was appointed relieving editorial cartoonist after the war, which was later made permanent. His many post-war illustrations include those in Nino Culotta’s They’re a Weird Mob (Ure Smith, Sydney 1957) and in Cyril Pearl’s So, You Want To Buy A House? (Cheshire, Melbourne 1961). Five original 1960s-70s works are at ML PXD 764.

As a painter Pidgeon won prizes in the 'Australia at War’ exhibition in 1945, and he won the Archibald Prize three times (1958, 1961 and 1969). He finally retired from newspaper work disillusioned with its lack of status and freedom, though he continued to illustrate books. His article 'What price independence?’ in the final issue of Australian Artist (2/2, winter 1949, 12-15) was a bitter commentary about restrictions on the cartoonist:

“The proper degree of independence of the cartoonist is complete independence -without it there is no passion, and without passion, no greatness. (In an effort to avoid the friction that striving after independence causes, the tendency today is to get closer and closer to a comic gag drawing on local and topical affairs.) ...

“The daily life of the people is today reflected back to them in terms of gentle, even inane satire. Jocularity is wearing out a million pencils and the straight cartoon is as rare as a bonus.”

As a result:

“An enormous amount of cartoon work is done to a type of formula that simply cannot be adapted to a serious theme. Even the solidly based handling of Low can look merely theatrical. In any case the hackneyed symbols of weeping nations and broken men seem to me mawkish and as subjects appropriate more to the music hall than to a newspaper. However Dyson, and at times Finey, can achieve dignity in this line.

“Practically all cartoonists in Australia have drifted into this work from other phases of newspaper art. First as temporary, later as permanent, replacements of someone else. Editors seem to entertain the notion that because a man draws, he is a veritable fountain-head of ideas, both political and funny. Certainly to be any sort of cartoonist an artist must have a journalistic mind…

“The insistence on the journalistic approach places the prime emphasis on the idea of the cartoon.

“This is often carried to the conclusion that the idea is all that matters and that the drawing is sufficient even if it only just adequately interprets the thought.

“All of which militates against the production of good draughtsmanship.”

WEP died in February 1981. His widow, Dorothy, was still alive in 1996, living in Northwood.

Kerr, Joan
Peter Pidgeon
Date written:
Last updated: