Wednesday, December 20, 2017


When I started this blog, my plan was to publicize my favorite works by great illustrators of the past.  I had a long list, starting with illustrators such as Leyendecker, Rockwell and Cornwell-- and figured I would soon get to the talented Saul Tepper.

Then 12 years went by.

I fear that many people share my mistake of treating Tepper as an afterthought: he's an important artist that we'll get to eventually.   One reason may be that people rarely see high rez images of his rich, dramatic paintings.

Whatever the reason, he deserves better. 

Tepper (1899-1987) was one of the last great "painterly" illustrators who worked in oils on canvas to achieve a thick, buttery effect.  

The following lovely example is from the Kelly Collection of American Illustration:

The variegated textures and rich colors of Tepper's originals rarely showed up in the final published versions:

By the latter part of Tepper's career, illustration had moved on to smaller, faster, water based paintings on cardboard that were better suited to the demands and timetable of modern publishers.  By the 1950s he was working for second tier magazines such as Argosy and True.  He found work as a photographer, teacher and musical composer.

But before he migrated away from illustration, Tepper spent a solid 30 years painting in the classical style, creating remarkable paintings that are worthy of our attention.


David said...

I've never heard of Tepper, so thank you for highlighting his work. The close-up if the "window grill" is just delightful. One can feel the paint being spatulaed on.

It's interesting how we talk of how "modern publishing" threw many exceptionally skilled and talented illustrators tothe streets looking to "find work" in other creative venues, or never again at all.

MORAN said...

Awesome stuff!

Smurfswacker said...

I'm happy to see Tepper get a nod. I've long admired his illustrations. He developed his own unique version of the "Cornwell School" style. Marvelous stuff! I'm not sure, though, that he was one of those artists defeated by changing tastes. From what I've read he was always active in other aspects of the arts. I'm sure that writing songs for the likes of Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald was a nice gig, too.

Robert Cosgrove said...

Did I hear that someone was doing a book on Tepper? Or am I just imagining things?

David Apatoff said...

David-- I agree, and the process continues today: "modern publishing throws many exceptionally skilled and talented illustrators to the streets looking to find work in other creative venues." In the 1950s publishers no longer wanted to wait for the oil paint on the "window grill" to dry. Today, publishers no longer want to wait for gouache on illustration board to dry and be delivered. I know art editors who like getting digital images e-mailed because the art editor can then directly Photoshop any changes they want, rather than shipping an original painting back and for the artist to modify.

MORAN-- Indeed.

Smurfswacker-- Yes, Tepper (like Cornwell and many other great illustrators) was a great musician, active in other aspects of the arts. But when it comes to "changing tastes" in the illustration market, I defer to the always reliable Fred Taraba in his excellent reference work, "Masters of American Illustration." Taraba writes: "With the advent of World War II, the market for the type of illustrations that were Tepper's specialty quickly began to evaporate. Magazines focused on a less painterly approach and photography commanded a larger share of commissions.... During the 1950s, Tepper became dissatisfied with the state of illustration while working for such pulp magazines as True, Argosy and Real, and quit illustrating. His freelance career at an end, he worked as an advertising television art director for J. Walter Thompson...."

Robert Cosgrove-- I hope you're right, but I haven't heard of a book in the works.

Donald Pittenger said...

Greatly appreciate your Tepper post. I've mentioned him a few times on Art Contrarian, but he got a big boost earlier this year when Illustration Magazine featured him.

That 1920s bold-brush oil illustration era was often very good indeed.