Saturday 31 October 2015

Genealogy Saturday - The cartoonist, Bobby Pyke

Sepia Saturday prompts bloggers to share their family history with old pictures.

Their suggestion this week features the cartoon image of a fair maiden, who is none too happy. She has just seen the less than handsome face of her future husband in the magic mirror. Bobby Pyke, my Dad's first cousin, was a cartoonist - an artist with a pen - and a talented one too. Bobby's subjects may not always have been too happy with the face he revealed, either.

Born, Robert Charles Pyke, on 3 May 1916, at 2 Portobello Place, Dublin, Bobby was the only son of Robert J. Pyke and Mary A. O'Neill.[1] His parents were better known in my father's family as Aunt May and Uncle Bob and his three sisters as Madge, Molly and Tess. The family were from Dublin, Ireland. Bobby believed seven generations of Pykes wandered the city's streets before he was born, and he was proud of his heritage.[2]

Bobby Pyke, by Bobby Pyke

He started his working life as a butcher, initially following in his father's footsteps, but this was not the career for him. He was working as a mechanic in 1935, when he achieved his life's dream and enrolled on a four year course, three evenings a week, at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art.[3]
On leaving college, Bobby worked in the film-studios in England, sketching the movie stars for magazines and newspapers. Work was never as plentiful or as lucrative in Ireland, but Bobby soon returned to his beloved Dublin. Here, he painted the backdrops for shows of the comedian, Jimmy O'Dea, and sketched newspaper advertisements for the sweet company, ‘Lemons’.  He then became a press cartoonist working, at various times, with The Irish Press newspaper, the Sunday Press and the Irish Times.[4]

W. B. Yeats (1865-1939), Poet

Bobby produced much of his best work during the 1940s and 1950s, immortalising many of the most prominent Irish characters of the day. His subjects included writers and artists, actors, businessmen and politicians. Among them were the likes of William Butler Yeats, Jack Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh and Austin Clarke, to name but a few. 

His now famous and somewhat valuable sketches are often signed with the single name, 'Pyke', if they are signed at all, and examples of his work are held in the National Library of Ireland and the National Gallery of Ireland.

Bobby much preferred drawing women, telling Noel Conway in an interview with the Irish Press, 'women take more kindly to my playful exaggerations of the pen.' 'Men', he added, 'the trouble with them is vanity… they wish to be portrayed as they see themselves.'[5] Yet, I found no caricatures of the women he sketched, while researching this post.  

John B. Keane (1928 – 2002), Playwright

Seamus Martin, an ex-Irish Press journalist, described Bobby as 'a dapper man, usually dressed in tweeds with his grey hair swept back.' Yet, Bobby never married.[6] In the 1950s, he pursued the beautiful fashion-model, turned businesswoman, Betty Whelan, but their romance didn't lead to anything.[7] Perhaps, this was because Bobby was 'almost permanently drunk' and then 'capable of the most outrageous behaviour'.[4]  This, to me, would sound the death-knell for any relationship.

It was in his obituary, written by the journalist and biographer, Tim Pat Coogan, that I first suspected Bobby Pyke had a problem with alcohol. Coogan wrote:
'though a somewhat mercurial colleague, Bobby was also a gentle one and even at his most rumbustious never gave anyone the slightest cause for concern - even while conducting one of his famous post-closing time soliloquies on a crowded bus or train'.[8]

Following a short illness, Bobby died in St Michael's Hospital, Dun Laoghaire, on 12 July 1987. He was buried in Deansgrange Cemetery, in south county Dublin.[9] 

According to his friend and a one-time colleague, Douglas Gageby, 'his friends will remember him for his splendid professionalism and his wonderfully diverting company.'[10] 

It sounds like the world lost much of its colour, when Bobby died.

See what other faces magically appear this week, over at Sepia Saturday.

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

[1] Copy birth registration, General Register Office.
[2] Liam Robinson, ‘The man who sketched 1000 faces’ (an interview with Bobby Pyke), Irish Press, 22 April 1987 p. 8.
[3] Enrollment Register, 1932-37', College Student Registers, Ref. IE/NIVAL CR/CR59/586, National Irish Visual Arts Library (NIVAL)
[4] Theo Snoddy, Dictionary of Irish Artists: 20th Century (2nd ed., Dublin, 2002), pp 543-4.
[5] Noel Conway, ‘The days when men were men’ (an interview with Bobby Pyke), Irish Press, 15 May 1968, p. 10.
[6] Seamus Martin, Good Times and Bad, from the Coombe to the Kremlin (Cork, 2008), p. 39.
[7] Kieran Fagan, ‘Betty Whelan’, Sunday Independent, 3 July 2011.
[8] Tim Pat Coogan, Irish Press, 13 July 1987, p. 4.
[9] Chris Dooley, Irish Press, 13 July 1987, p. 4.
[10] Douglas Gageby, Irish Times, 22 July 1987, p. 7.

Image credits:
i) Bobby Pyke by Bobby Pyke, Irish Press, 22 April 1987. 
ii) W. B. Yeats by Bobby Pyke (1941), Irish Comics Wiki, under licence CC-BY-SA.
iii) John B. Keane, by Bobby Pyke, Irish Press, 20 November 1992.


  1. I like caricature drawings just to see what features the artist chooses to emphasize. This is such an interesting story, so I'm glad Sepia Saturday provided just the prompt to inspire this contribution.

  2. How interesting. I found you by way of Sepia Saturday. I was born in Dublin but my parents brought us to Canada in the late 1950s. However, I go back often, and was there just in September.

    1. Thank you for introducing yourself, Jackie, I'll check out your blog.

  3. Dara, such a marvellous 'character' to have as a member of the family, and how wonderful Bobby pursued his passion! I love that he mentioned men as more vain than women. They do say the artist's eye sees better than most. ;-)

    1. It's nice to have the family represented in the country's art galleries, as well as in the prisons :-)

  4. I've always admired the artistic skill of caricaturists, so it was a delight to meet Bobby Pyke. He seems to have had a fine eye for the right line. How large were his typical portraits?

    1. His work features in the National Gallery's online collection and they're typically 40 by 30 cm, sometimes larger. See here:

  5. An interesting character. I am a big admirer of cartoonists and I have probably seen his work and didn't realize it. Good take on the prompt by the way.

  6. This was so interesting. Glad you chose to feature Bobby Pyke today.

  7. I like your Bobby Pyke. You've written his story very nicely. The Yeats drawing is great.

  8. A very interesting biography, and great that his work is recognised and on display nationally.

  9. Your first cousin once removed, Bobby Pyke was quite the cartoon artist. Did he ever do any cartoon images of your family? That might have been fun and rather special if he did.

  10. Well done, Bobby. I think there is a lot to be said for the hard won learning done at night school after a day's work.. People who did that were really dedicated. And it certainly helped with Bobby's skills beautifully..An interesting man.

  11. That’s an interesting take on our prompt Dara. I too admire cartoonists and caricaturists; what lucky find Bobby was.

  12. Fascinating Dara. Sounds like an entertaining gentleman, and an obit by Tim Pat Coogan, amazing!

  13. This is a very interesting story and I found myself thinking that I admire him for pursuing his dream. Too often people let fear of the unknown dictate their choices. Good story.

  14. When I was a 20 year old Irish Press reporter in Burgh Quay in 1973 Bobby approached me in the newsroom and offered to do a caricature for £3 .I only had £2 in cash which he accepted and produced an instant drawing .I gave him £2 and he adjourned to Mulligans.I still have the likeness somewhere


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!