Saturday, October 24, 2020

A LAST LOOK AT THE BRIGGS ARCHIVES, part 5: painting in retirement

In the 1940s, Austin Briggs was desperately trying to break away from the comic strip field and win illustration assignments, which he believed would be more challenging.

Look magazine featured a monthly illustrated series called "American Heroes." Each episode told the story of an American soldier in World War II.  When Briggs was assigned an episodes, he was delighted.  However, when the Art Director suggested that Briggs mimic the style of a popular illustrator of the day, Al Dorne,  Briggs flatly refused:
[The Art Director] told Austin to look over the jobs from the same series Al Dorne had done and for him to get a little of Dorne's stuff in his pictures.  Austin's answer to this was simple and direct, that [the Art Director] had Dorne's telephone number. 


Briggs' illustrations for Look magazine, done without regard for Al Dorne's style 

Despite his stubborn attitude, or perhaps because of it, Briggs became one of the preeminent illustrators in America.

Briggs' wife (left) discusses one of his award winning illustrations with the wife of Al Dorne and the wife of Robert Fawcett at a reception at the Society of Illustrators

Living the lifestyle of a famous illustrator of the time, Briggs built himself a mansion in the hills of Connecticut, with a separate art studio and guest house.

Toward the end of a long and successful career, Briggs was diagnosed with leukemia.  He sold his house and his studio and went to spend his final days living and working in Paris.  

There he married Agnes Fawcett, the widow of illustrator Robert Fawcett (in the picture at the Society of Illustrators, above).

He shared some good moments with local Parisian tradesmen.  Like them, he prided himself in earning a living with his hands.

Most of all, this last period of his life set him free to create pictures any way he liked, with no editors or art directors.

Briggs' new wife, Agnes, at breakfast with flowers

Briggs passed away in 1973.


Richard said...

Has no idea Briggs went through a painterly Parisian phase. Deeply fascinating. Thank you for sharing.

MORAN said...

Awesome work

chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...

Thank you David for this sequence of posts exampling the lesser known work of Briggs - a fascinating read and very stimulating to look at.

The big disappointment are these final paintings when he became unmoored from illustration. He doesn't seem to know what he needs to be painting about anymore and is aimlessly ambling around knocking off competent works which put me in mind of a gifted student going through his Vulliard phase. I hope he did not see it this way in his last years and was contented enough just to be doing them.

Unknown said...

This has been a very interesting series. Thanks for posting all this work which is not in the book.

My copy of the Mead Schaeffer book arrived a few days ago. an impressive and valuable production. You must have spent a huge amount of time cleaning up the scans of printed material -- or do you have an army of assistants ?

Your books should ensure that Schaeffer and other great artists are not forgotten.

Don Cox

David Apatoff said...

Richard-- Briggs passed through many artistic incarnations, from pulp artist and cartoonist to movie artist, to painter and illustrator, etc. It's hard to say what induced him to adopt his approach at the end of life; the joys of depicting his new wife, the freedom from commercial assignments, the contemplation of imminent death?

MORAN-- Briggs was quite an artistic force.

chris bennett-- I'm reminded of Gauguin who spent his entire life as a rebel fighting the establishment, but when he died his last painting, unfinished on his easel, was a sentimental French countryside painting in bourgeois tourist taste.

David Apatoff said...

Don Cox-- Bless you for getting the Mead Schaeffer book. It's almost sold out! And the Briggs book sold out not long after it came out. These books aren't perfect, but they are hopefully a good starting point for future art critics and scholars. We are in the last generation when people still have first hand memories of the great illustrators. Family collections of documents and correspondence will dissipate; sketches and preliminaries will be thrown away or disappear into private collections; personal photos will get lost; so the window for getting a meaningful picture is rapidly closing. Interviewing the son of Austin Briggs or the daughter of Mead Schaeffer, or interviewing Bernie Fuchs himself, has been a wonderful, rich experience for me.

I believe in the exhortation of Isabel Allende, "Write it down before it is erased by the wind!"


thanks alot for sharing some unseen pictures.ARTS

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Norman Boyd said...

David, THANK YOU. Smatterings of illustrations, such as in this series, really draw the eye. I love Briggs assured lines which appear to be so casually put down, but are from years of experience. The range you've shown indicate a long journey ending in pleasure. I have the book and will soon be reading it. I've put it off to do some (hobby) work so I'd have a reward at the end.
I totally understand how fatiguing a blog can be but you've gifted us with so much and I'm grateful.