Frank Arthur Nankivell was born in the old gold-mining town of Maldon, northwest
of Castlemaine, Victoria in 1869. His parents noticed his artistic abilities
and moved him to Melbourne where he studied art at Wesley College. He intended
to further his studies in Paris, and in 1890 at the age of 21, on a shoestring
budget, he sailed for France. But, as with many young peoples' stories at
this time, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum.
He had run out of funds by the time he reached Japan, and after hawking his work around was able to earn a living as a cartoonist in Tokyo. From 1891-1894 he was on the staff of the English-language magazine Box of Curios.
In Tokyo he made the acquaintance of young Rakuten Kitazawa, taught him editorial cartooning, and was able to get him on staff as the only oriental. Kitazawa later became father of the Japanese comic art now known as Manga and founder of Tokyo Puck, named after Puck magazine of the US. Nankivell left Japan in 1894 to study art in San Francisco. He tried his hand, unsuccessfully, at publishing, producing another Puck imitation, Chic, and drawing for several San Francisco newspapers, the Call, the Examiner and the Chronicle.
He left for New York in 1896 after Chic failed, and joined the staff of Puck, where he remained until it was sold in 1913.
Puck had been founded in 1877 by the Austrian-born American political cartoonist Joseph Keppler. It became a financial success by 1880, and a national power by 1884. It was read religiously by tens of thousands, feared and denigrated by those who felt its barbs, and became one of America's most popular and influencial magazines. But there was also another reason for its fame. It was the first magazine to introduce the new photo-engraving process which freed cartoonists from the constraints and stiffness of steel-engraving and woodcuts.
There's an important Australian connection here. In 1880 the Sydney Bulletin was founded and the Editor, William Traill, having heard of the satirical and printing reputation of Puck, set out to New York in search of ideas and possible talent. He returned with the new photo-engraving process, and Livingstone Hopkins, a 32 year-old established political cartoonist and Civil War veteran, who also knew how to use the new printing process. These events were to change the face of Australian publishing and cartooning forever. But that's another story.
The founder of Puck, Joseph Keppler, died in 1894, two years before Nankivell arrived. The magazine was taken over by Keppler's son, Joseph Keppler Jnr, also a very good political cartoonist. When Nankivell arrived in 1896 he soon established himself as one of the magazine's more popular and influencial cartoonists.
Nankivell devoted his work mainly to social subjects and to State and Federal political issues. He was very direct in the Australasian way, and absorbed the same lively American style of political cartooning that was to influence Australia through Livingstone Hopkins.
After Puck was sold in 1913 Nankivell left and pursued the "serious" art life he had hankered for in his earlier life.
He was one of the organisers of the influencial 1913 Armory Art Show which introduced many of the latest of European art trends to the US. He was also a fashionable book illustrator in New York circles of the 1910's and 20's and, being an avid traveller, was very involved in the New York Circumnavigators Club, open only to those who had circumnavigated the globe longitudinally, by land and/or sea, not so common in those times. Other members included Hemingway and Harry Houdini. .
Later during the Depression Nankivell worked in the Graphic Arts Division of the US Federal Arts Project, whose task was to record the effects of the Depression on ordinary people, especially in rural areas. Many examples of their extraordinary work, including Frank Nankivells, is held in the collections of The Smithsonian in Washington DC.
He died in 1959.