I love that my
job allows me to learn something new every day—and the fact that the majority
of those discoveries are art-related make them all the more inspiring. Lately
I've been in art-historian mode, and I've have been trying to better understand
the various art movements throughout history, why they occurred, who incited
them, what was happening in culture at the time, and why we remember them.
For an upcoming
article, I've been working with the Society of Illustrators, which has allowed
me to research the Golden Age of Illustration and learn more about the economic
and cultural climate at the turn of the 20th century. Starting in
the 1880s, significant advancements were being made in print technology and a
newly empowered media began to arise in America. With circulation numbers
soaring, newspapers needed draftsmen to provide visual reportage, and magazines
such as Harper's, Collier's, Scribner's, and The Saturday
Evening Post sought illustrators to create pencil sketches, pen-and-ink drawings, paintings, and the like for their pages. Some of
the most talented artists of the day stepped up to supply the demand, as a near
absence of gallery representation and exhibition opportunities for fine artists
made sketching commercial work one of the only games in town.
||At the Recital by Charles Dana Gibson, pen and ink drawing
on Bristol board. Image courtesy Museum of American
Illustration at the Society of Illustrators, New York, New York.
illustrations that came out of that period are, in my opinion, some of the
strongest examples of narrative figurative work in the history of American
painting. I think artists such as Howard Pyle, J. C. Leyendecker, Charles Dana
Gibson, N. C. Wyeth, Dean Cornwell, and Norman Rockwell mastered the most
important qualities of art making: solid drawing techniques, engaging subject
matter, dramatic storytelling, a natural ability to convey a sense of time and
place, and exceptional paint handling and brushwork. Those commercial artists
influenced a tremendous number of fine artists, and they remain a great source
of inspiration for painters, fashion designers, illustrators, and animators.
Illustration for "Hail and Farewell" for The
American Magazine by Pruett A. Carter, 1938,
oil painting. Image courtesy
Museum of American
Illustration at the Society of Illustrators, NY.
look into the artists of this era and other illustrators throughout the 20th
century, and I always appreciate an opportunity to see their work in person.
Thankfully, the Society of Illustrators is just a subway ride away, so I can
hop uptown and see everything from sketch drawings to fine art illustrations at the drop of a Gibson Girl bonnet!
If you are living in or visiting the New York City area, I would encourage you
to stop by their building and see their impressive collection. They also host sketch drawing nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays with live music and models—a
throwback to their famous Illustrator Shows of the early 1900s, when
artist-and-model theatrics reigned and illustration had its golden moment in
Allison Malafronte is the senior editor
of American Artist.