Tuesday, March 17, 2020


Dan Zimmer at The Illustrated Press has just released an excellent new book on the legendary Stanley Meltzoff.

Meltzoff was unique among illustrators.  A fierce intellectual, he wrote a 400 page, carefully researched book entitled Botticelli, Signorelli and Savonarola; Theologica Poetica  from Boccaccio to Poliziano for Biblioteca Di Lettre Italiae Studi E Testi XXXIII.  He also wrote scholarly articles such as his "Rhetoric, Semiotics, and Linguistics Look at the Strolling Actresses of Hogarth" in New Literary History, A Journal of Theory and Interpretation.

Yet, Meltzoff was no mere academic.  He initially became famous for his steamy covers for potboiler novels. 

Below, a preliminary study for Act of Passion from the new Meltzoff book.  (Note how in the final version the man's hand has been removed from her throat and her hand now pulls him toward her rather than tugging him away). 

He later moved on to illustrating exciting science fiction and historical novels.  Below, two paintings of courtesans, one from ancient times and one from a New Orleans bordello:

As far as I'm concerned, the apex of Meltzoff's career was his historical series of paintings for Life Magazine, National Geographic and other premier publications:

But Meltzoff continued after this phase to become the country's leading painter of fish:

I wasn't sure how any author was going to do justice to a roving intellect such as Meltzoff's, so I was especially pleased to see that the text of the book is a series of essays by Meltzoff himself.  Especially rewarding is Meltzoff's essay at age 89, "Metamorphoses of a Fishpainter."

This book is a well deserved and long overdue monument to a substantial talent.  


Unknown said...

What an insightful review by David Apatoff!
From Meltzoff's careful historical research to his wonderful brush strokes and composition, I agree that my father's historical works are among his finest. This genre gave him free rein as a classically trained painter and art historian who was fascinated by science and history, itself.

Anonymous said...

Just ordered it - cheered me up from the covid isolation . I have his 2011 book and a nice vhs of Avati which has Stanley and JA hanging out . I love all his work , the scientific american stuff - but his paperback work has a special appeal - that Paradise Motel cover and others show a roughness that in some ways , is more appealing than the epic pieces .

Al McLuckie

kev ferrara said...

Great book. The original of this from 2011 has 182 pages and is printed in an oversized horizontal format. Does anybody know if there is additional material between the versions?

I'm partial to the fish paintings, myself. But Meltzoff had tremendous talent, skill, drive, and integrity. So pretty much everything he did was great. Even his painting of a bunch of lowly pennies is worth looking at.

Meltzoff also published "On the Rhetoric of Vision" in Leonardo, Vol. 3, pp. 27-38 (1970)

Anonymous said...

Kev - has any artist in history ever painted a better bunch of pennies ?

Al McLuckie

David Apatoff said...

In answer to Kev Ferrara's question about how the new book compares with the earlier, smaller book:

There are 42 more pages and the content of the entire book has revised. The publisher provides an online preview of the book which affords the best possible comparison: https://issuu.com/illomag/docs/meltzoff

Mostly, there's more of an emphasis on Meltzoff's illustration work. For example, the science fiction paintings get full page reproductions, some from originals, instead of 6 images to one single page.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, "Unknown" (Sarah Meltzoff, Stanley's daughter).

Al McLuckie-- Yes, Avati and Meltzoff were quite a pair. The book includes some nice paintings of Avati and some of Meltzoff's commentary on their relationship. I agree with you about his paperback work. I love that such a brainiac was not too distant from the lurid side of things. And if any artist ever painted better pennies, I've never seen it.

Kev Ferrara-- I agree those fish paintings are great too; as a dedicated skin diver, Meltzoff's heart was truly in them. And many fish paintings had titles that showed he attached allegorical significance to his subjects.

kev ferrara said...

Glad to hear there's new material in there! Can't wait.

And many fish paintings had titles that showed he attached allegorical significance to his subjects.

I just looked at a hundred and sixty fish paintings and didn't see any allegorical titles. http://www.silverfishpress.com/index.php?id=30&gr_id=13&mod_prod_offset=0

Can you point me towards the allegorical ones?

The paintings, like all great images, are metaphoric at least. I mean, they're works of complicated poetry. But there's no symbolic assignments in any of them that I can see.

If there are any "allegorical" titles, it is the presence of the titles alone that adds the allegorical component; surfacing one possibility of the metaphor for the sake of the naming convention. Why narrow the experience like that? I personally never look at the titles because it unnecessarily adulterates the purity of aesthetic contemplation.

kev ferrara said...

I recall seeing his fantastic show at the Society of Illustrators with a bunch of painter friends a few years back. There was one particular fish painting that had a single long looping white paint stroke that went on and on with absolutely no evidence that it was in any way added to or fixed. We talked about that damn magic paint stroke for days.

chris bennett said...

God, those fish paintings are marvelous! And interesting to learn that Meltzoff was a dedicated diver.

Another book to add to my growing list. Thanks David.

Li-An said...

I decided to stop buying illustration books for a moment but Meltzoff is so good I could not resist. Even his fish paintings are interesting.

Robert Cosgrove said...

In the mid-eighties, I, an amateur painter, was taking oil painting lessons from Clement Micarelli. Mic was a fashion artist on the commercial side, and primarily a portrait painter on the fine arts side. From time to time he would talk about his own teachers, and his stories always piqued my interest. He had studied at Pratt Institute, and said his teacher was Stanley Meltzoff--the first time I heard the name. He remarked that Meltzoff thought an artist should use a palette comparable in size to the painting he was working on, and recalled a time when Meltzoff invited him to visit him at his studio. He said when he arrived, Meltzoff was working on a large painting involving a horse (or perhaps a dead horse), and that a dead horse was suspended nearby, on wires, as a model. He noted that Meltzoff practiced what he preached, as he was using a large hollow door as his palette. Years later, when I took a train to New York to take in the Meltzoff show at the Society of Illustrators--a great show--I looked around to see if I could find a painting that fit Mic's description. So far I haven't. Perhaps Mic got it wrong, or perhaps I have yet to encounter the right painting.

Jerome Samson said...

Being a vampire is not what it seems like. It’s a life full of good, and amazing things. We are as human as you are.. It’s not what you are that counts, but how you choose to be. Do you want a life full of interesting things? Do you want to have power and influence over others? To be charming and desirable? To have wealth, health, and longevity? contact the vampires creed today via email: Richvampirekindom@gmail.com

chris bennett said...

It's not what you are that counts
Unless you're Dracula.

kev ferrara said...

Spampires are the worst.