I remember the exquisite delight I took in beautifully illustrated books as a child. I had a wonderful, huge, beautifully bound copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales.
It had beautiful pages of glorious, romantic, delicately coloured illustrations, each covered by a thin sheet of velum. I think this is where my love of illustration began. I still delight in illustrated works and my children’s story books were selected not only for the quality of their stories and language but in a large part for the quality of the illustrations.
Illustration was a major part of any publication in the early to mid 20th century.
“Magazines and newspapers were the main form of popular entertainment and the premier source of news and information. Before the rise of radio and the movies and the fall of the nation’s economy, these illustrators served as visual storytellers for the world. Their artwork was highly regarded and in great demand”
I have chosen some of America’s best loved illustrators for this Friday.
The first, is arguably the most renowned illustrator in the American Regionalism genre – Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell was a prolific artist, producing over 4,000 original works in his lifetime. He is called an “illustrator” instead of an artist by some critics, a designation he did not mind, as it was what he called himself.
However, in his later years, Rockwell began receiving more attention as a painter when he chose more serious subjects such as the series on racism for Look magazine.
In 1999, The New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl said of Rockwell in ArtNews: “Rockwell is terrific. It’s become too tedious to pretend he isn’t.”
Norman Rockwell was enormously influenced by the work of J.C. Leyendecker (Joseph Christian), who was the premier cover illustrator for the enormously popular bimonthly magazine The Saturday Evening Post.
Ultimately J.C. Leyendecker would produce 322 covers for the magazine, introducing many iconic visual images and traditions including the New Year’s Baby, the pudgy red-garbed Santa Claus, flowers for Mother’s Day, and firecrackers on the 4th of July.
It is said that Leyendecker virtually invented the whole idea of modern magazine design.
Another major illustrator of this period was N.C. Wyeth (Newell Convers), during his lifetime, Wyeth created over 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books. The Scribner Classics, which is the work for which he is best-known, make up the majority of his book illustrations. The first of these, Treasure Island, was his masterpiece and the proceeds paid for his studio.
His non-illustrative portrait and landscape paintings changed dramatically in style throughout his life, by the 1930s he had veered to the realistic American regionalism, painting with thin oils and occasionally, egg tempera, often working on a larger scale than necessary. He could conceive, sketch out, and paint a large painting in as little as three hours.
Dean Cornwell was an American illustrator and muralist. His oil paintings were frequently featured in popular magazines and books as literary illustrations, advertisements, and posters promoting the war effort. Throughout the first half of the 20th century he was a dominant presence in American illustration. At the peak of his popularity he was nicknamed the “Dean of Illustrators”.
I particularly love his vignettes
Mead Schaeffer was a contemporary of Norman Rockwell. He produced 46 covers for the weekly Saturday Evening Post. His work as a war correspondent for the Post during World War II resulted in a well-known series of covers illustrating American military personnel.
At the age of 24, he was hired by the publisher Dodd, Mead & Company to illustrate a series of books much like NC Wyeth had done for Scribner’s Classics, this culminated in 1930. When this first phase of his career ended, his illustrations of classic novels also ended. It was during this period that he met Dean Cornwell, possibly in 1926, and decided he needed further painting instruction and went in a different direction with his career.
He is quoted as saying “I suddenly realized I was sick of painting dudes and dandies…I longed to do honest work, based on real places, real people and real things.”
“An important difference between a fine artist and an illustrator is that the former goes through life painting the things that he sees before him, while the latter is forced to paint something that neither he nor anyone else has ever seen, and make it appear real. The true measure of an illustrator is his ability to take a subject about which he may have neither interest nor information, tackle it with everything he’s got, and make the finished picture look like the consummation of his life’s ambition.”
Have a wonderful weekend, I hope you have enjoyed this rather longer than usual Friday Favourites.