As the promise of spring becomes tangible, the American Illustrators Gallery launches a celebration of artists’ muses, both personal and professional, in its spring 2011 exhibition American Muse. Artists on display include Harrison Fisher, Dean Cornwell, J.C. Leyendecker, F.X. Leyendecker, Alex Ross and John Lagatta.
The star artists of the Golden Age of Illustration reached both high and low for inspiration in pursuit of representing the mood-altering, elevating and life-saving forms of the object of desire. The entire canon of art history rubbed shoulders with Hollywood glamour as the artists mixed and matched their references in true American style.
J.C. Leyendecker (1874–1957), in the manner of the times, painted almost strictly heterosexual romances in spite of his personal lifestyle. Couple on Raft depicts a bathing beauty playfully mugging for the viewer as she readies for a dive. She is mostly covered by a trim, modest bathing suit, but her male partner lounges much more freely, and Leyendecker takes advantage of this opportunity to render an unbelievably broad and fit physique with not a hair out of place.
In contrast to his older brother, F.X. Leyendecker (1877–1924) paid direct homage to formal, academically heralded works of art with his illustration The Kiss. The couple touches lips from either side of a wingback chair, whose placement between them keeps the scene chaste. F.X. flirts with modern design by allowing his subjects to break through the painted frame, perhaps a concession to J.C.’s great influence on him.
In Couple in Parlor Dean Cornwell (1892–1960) illustrates another side of coupledom: resigned boredom. The colors he uses are deliberately distinguished and sober, with a tinge of green, and the single, sweeping highlight is placed on the large cupboard situated behind a couple whose postures are slack and whose eyes are wandering.
Harrison Fisher (1875–1934) appears four times in the American Muse exhibit. A frequent contributor to the Ladies’ Home Journal, he was known for his illustrations of quintessentially “American Girls.” In most of his illustrations depicting romance, it is the man who exhibits frustration, but these four works represent departures from dissatisfaction, as in I Have Won Your Love, Beverly, by the Fairest Means, which was created for the 1904 publication of Beverly of Graustark and captures a couple tenderly setting aside their differences.
Alex Ross’ (1909–1990) Summer Night basks in a more visceral experience: the saturated, elevated feelings brought on by a whirlwind evening spent dancing close, only the woman’s vividly red lips breaking through the softness of the light.
John Lagatta (1894–1977) explores a darker situation in Sweet Consolation, employing scattered slashes of color to hint at what might have brought such a dapper man to be constrained by a sling. The white dress of his equally composed female companion almost glows in the dim outdoor setting whose details are mostly hushed.
For more information on American Muse call 212.744.5190 or visit our website at www.americanillustrators.com. American Illustrators Gallery is located at 18 East 77th Street near Madison Avenue. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.