Saturday, April 02, 2005


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:

Austin Briggs

Frank Brangwyn

J.C. Coll

Dean Cornwell

Robert Fawcett

Frank Frazetta

Bernie Fuchs

Charles Dana Gibson

J.C. Leyendecker

Winsor McCay

Howard Pyle

Alex Raymond

Norman Rockwell

Leonard Starr

Saul Steinberg

N.C. Wyeth

Who is on your list of greats?


Anonymous said...


It's always great to run across a fellow illustration enthusiast, & I think the intro on your welcome page is on the money, equating image makers down through history. I have a lot to say about most of the artists on your list, & I love to hear myself talk -- but for right now I'll just say that Robert Fawcett is about as good as it gets. If there's anybody out there that wishes to argue that point of view, I'd love to set them straight.


Neil Shapiro

Anonymous said...

I am so happy to see you put
N. Rockwell on your list with the other fine, fine... no I mean really fine illustrators.

A zillion years ago I had a Jr High School teacher tell me that my favorite artist (NR) was NOT really an artist, because blah blah blah.

Have you ever been to the NR Museum and seen his early originals... the ones he painted/drew way before he was commissioned to do the Post Covers?

Soooo awesome!!!

And here's to you Mrs Smith where-ever you are... hmmmph!!

Neil Shapiro said...


The more I read your blog (I haven't checked it in some time -- my loss), the more impressed I am with the scope of your erudition concerning, not just the field of illustration; but the entire notion of what makes art, art. This blog is a feast.

Neil Shapiro

Anonymous said...

Hello David. As an illustration student I find your blog simultaneously inspiring and informative. Please don't ever stop. I'll be using your blog as one of my sources for my forthcoming dissertation:)

I am surprised though that you've neglected to cover illustrators such as Joseph Clement Coll or Gustave Dore. A personal choice, or have you just not gotten round to them yet?

Anonymous said...

You are presenting such amazing work and hats off to you for your brilliant presentation. I have to say that I had seen an exhibit at the Brandywine River Museum in Chaddsford, Pennsylvania a little ways back. It is an amazing museum. It was an exhibition of one families collection of original children's book art. I was overwhelmed by a large charcoal and sienna pencil drawing of a mother reading to children. It was done by the artist Rose O'Neill and it just stunned everybody who walked by it. It took your breath away. It always is amazing to make a new discovery.

Anonymous said...

great comic book artists: in my teens I absolutely adored Neal Adams, Wallace Wood (porn), Vaughn Bode, post Marvel Jack Kirby, Bernie Wrightson (Swamp Thing) and the guy who did the original Deathlock

Anonymous said...

Vernon Grant

Anonymous said...

I'd most certainly add David Grove..Unfairly overlooked..An immense talent. Maybe a bit shy and reclusive but who would be very celebrated when he's no longer ( perish the thought!)with us. Sad..

T. Nielsen Hayden said...

They also created cover art for books. Some of my favorites: James Avati, Pauline Baynes, Richard Powers, and Leo and Diane Dillon. (You already have Frazetta on your list.)

More recent additions: Michael Whelan, Tom Canty, Charles Vess, Donato Giancola, and Shaun Tan.

I wish it were easier to see the pencils, or for more people to see the pencils.


Anonymous said...

Early Iain McCaig,
e.g. -