H M Bateman established his inimitable style before the First World War when, as he put it, he ‘went mad on paper’, by drawing people’s mood and character. This culminated in ‘The Man Who ...’, his famous series of cartoons dramatising social gaffes.
Henry Mayo Bateman was born at Sutton Forest in New South Wales, Australia, on 15 February 1887, the elder of two children of English parents, the farmer turned export packager, Henry Charles Bateman, and his wife, (Amelia) Rose Mayo (formerly Brooks). A year after his birth, he returned with his family to England, and settled at Moss Vale, St Julian’s Farm Road, Lambeth, South London.
Bateman was educated at Forest Hill House, South London. Given the freedom to develop his artistic leaning from an early age, he left school at the age of 16, and attended Westminster School of Art and then Goldsmiths’ College. Influenced by Comic Cuts and Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday, he made contributions to Scraps (1903) and The Tatler (1904).
He was encouraged by Phil May and John Hassall to spend some time in the studio of Charles van Havermaet at the New Art School, Stratford Studios, Kensington (1904-7). He also took up amateur boxing, tap-dancing, golf and fishing, hobbies that were to prove valuable as sources for cartoon material. In 1911, he was living with his family at 40 Nightingale Lane, Balham.
It was around 1911 that Bateman developed his inimitable style, when, as he put it, he ‘went mad on paper’ by drawing people’s mood and character rather than their physical appearance. Many of his early caricatures show the influence of Sidney Sime and Henry Ospovat, and similarly depict musical and music-hall personalities and theatrical productions. He illustrated theatrical reviews in The Bystander (1910) and, as ‘Our Untamed Artist at the Play’, in The Sketch (1912-14). This work met with such success that he was also commissioned to produce posters for two plays by George Bernard Shaw, Fanny’s First Play and John Bull’s Other Island (both 1912). In the years before the First World War, he lived in South Clapham. During the war, he joined a London regiment, but was soon discharged on the grounds of ill health.
The beginning of the post-war period was marked by solo shows of Bateman’s work at the Leicester Galleries (1919, 1921). It also saw the emergence of his famous series of cartoons concerning the social gaffe, ‘The Man Who ...’, while he also developed a sequential approach derived from Caran d’Ache and the cinema. Throughout his career he contributed to almost all the leading periodicals and illustrated a number of books. His art proved to be a breath of fresh air to the stuffy pages of Punch, and his vigorous, wholly visual approach was closer to continental work such as that of the German satirical magazine, Simplicissimus, than to anything in England. At the peak of his career in the 1930s, he was earning between four and five thousand pounds from cartoons for magazines, including The Radio Times, book illustrations and advertising. He drove the latest cars and, in 1925, built a house at Reigate Heath in Surrey. In 1926, he married Brenda Weir, the daughter of a country gentleman from Stratford St Mary, Suffolk. They would have two daughters.
Though Bateman continued to produce cartoons and illustrations following the Second World War, he went into something of a semi-retirement. He separated from his wife in 1947, and six years later moved to Brook Cottage, Sampford Courtenay, Devon. Despite the mounting of a retrospective of his work, at the Fine Art Society in 1962, he felt alienated from post-war Britain; so, later in the decade, he decided to move permanently to the Maltese island of Gozo, where he painted watercolour landscapes. He died on Gozo on 11 February 1970.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the British Museum.
Further reading: Anthony Anderson, The Man Who Was H M Bateman, Exeter: Webb & Bower, 1982; John Jensen, ‘Bateman, Henry Mayo (1887-1970)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 4, pages 299-301