Once upon a time, artists found steady employment working for Popes and kings. From the cave paintings at Lascaux to the temple paintings at Karnak, from the Sistine Chapel to the palace at Versailles, the best artists could always feed their families creating artwork for the church or the state. Then, one by one, kings and pharoahs and Popes and Dukes stopped commissioning new art. Corporations emerged as the new centers of economic power. They also became the primary purchasers of art.
Artists were forced to adapt to the new economic realities. There were fewer jobs illustrating the bible and more jobs illustrating women's magazines. The same gifted artists who once might have been commissioned to record historic battles found work painting for corn flake companies and car manufacturers. Although the sponsors and the subject matter both changed, the quality of the artwork did not. Throughout the 20th century, talented artists created drawings, paintings and other objects of great beauty on behalf of their new corporate patrons.
People with uncertain taste had difficulty recognizing the true quality of this work. They became disoriented by its commercial origins. They looked for marble pillars and gold frames to help identify what was beautiful. But those with insight and judgment are rarely misled by the packaging.
Now the world has turned once again. The market for illustration has atrophied and many of the most creative artistic talents have migrated to movies, computer graphics and video games. But for over a century, many of the most talented artists in the world found a steady paycheck in illustration.
This blog is to celebrate the glorious talent of the artists who illustrated stories, advertisements and comics in the 20th century, to showcase their work retrieved from private collections and crumbling newsprint publications, and to welcome dialogue on their accomplishments.
The only way to react to art is personally. In my very personal view, creative artists who are worth a close look include:
Charles Dana Gibson
Who is on your list of greats?