Friday, April 25, 2014

A Chorus Girl's Eyelashes: Constantin Alajálov New Yorker Cover Art

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute boasts seven works by illustrator Constantin Alajálov, no fewer than six of which are fine examples of original New Yorker cover art. Clearly, this was a carefully-assembled group that may well have been donated by the artist directly. Otherwise, it's hard to imagine how so many superb pieces came to be together in one collection. Often museums indicate who donated a work or else what particular fund was used to purchase that work. This kind of information seems to be absent from the Clark's website, at least for these Alajálov pieces. It's always possible the museum may even have been aware all along that these are New Yorker pieces but it simply wasn't indicated on the website.

Just in case the Museum doesn't know about these magazine illustrations, though, I'm going to continue my stint as uninvited volunteer guest curator. Yes, I finally have given myself a title. It sounds so much more impressive than Blogger at Large.

This piece is identified on the Clark's website as Chorus Girl Putting on False Eyelashes. I have been accepting of these titles for the most part because I believe they might possibly have originated with the artist. I'm more leery of the Clark's subject keywords, which in this case include Interior Spaces. I just don't find that particularly helpful.
Constantin Alajálov, Chorus Girl Putting on False Eyelashes,
Collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
Chorus Girl Putting on False Eyelashes Museum Description,
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Finally, your guest curator pretends to earn his keep by relabeling the piece as original magazine cover art:
Constantin Alajálov, Original artwork, The New Yorker, April 3, 1948,
Collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Constantin Alajálov, The New Yorker, April 3, 1948

Okay. I'm ready for my close-up.

Note:  Read more on the New Yorker work of Constantin Alajálov here. I'll get to his other stuff soon, I promise.

Additional examples of original New Yorker cover art may be seen here.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Chorus Line: Constantin Alajálov New Yorker Cover Art

In writing Monday's post, it occurred to me that the Clark Art Institute, owner of an original work of New Yorker cover art by Constantin Alajálov published on June 6, 1942, almost certainly has no idea what it possesses. If the museum realized that it owned original magazine cover art from the New Yorker, surely it wouldn't be using keywords like Utensils to describe the piece. Utensils!
Constantin Alajálov, The New Yorker, June 6, 1942
Constantin Alajálov, Original cover art, The New Yorker, June 6, 1942
Collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
Wave and Maid Museum Description
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
More to the point, this is pretty much how the Clark Art Institute catalogued all seven of its original Alajálovs. There is no publication information at all, and remember we're talking about illustration art. That range of dates, 1910-1955, broadly indicates that the artist may have created it anytime between his tenth birthday and the year the museum acquired it. His tenth birthday! Does this pass for scholarship? Readers of this blog know it was created between January (the date of the preliminary artwork) and May of 1942 specifically for the New Yorker's June 6 cover. Would you like to know what I think? I think the Clark needs a guest curator, that's what I think. OK, I volunteer. Well, if they absolutely insist on paying me, they can lend me a Renoir.

Here then is another brilliant Alajálov illustration from the Clark's collection, along with its official scholarly description. Let's see what the museum has posted online after having this to study for 59 years. We should be able to set them straight in a few minutes.
Constantin Alajálov, Chorus Line in Spotlight,
Collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Chorus Line in Spotlight Museum Description,
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Well, it's immediately clear the museum has done a better job on this piece with its keywords. Dancing girls is, I hope we can agree, a solid improvement over Utensils. So now all that our guest curator needs to do is supply in a single line the publication history that has eluded the Clark for all these years. From the title of this post, you can pretty much guess what it is already, and it isn't exactly obscure. After almost six decades in the Clark then, here goes:
Constantin Alajálov, Original artwork, The New Yorker, January 17, 1942
Collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Constantin Alajálov, The New Yorker, January 17, 1942

That wasn't so hard, was it?

Note:  With museums putting more and more of their collections online, it's entirely possible that crowdsourcing could be used to identify publication histories of obscure illustrations. Unfortunately, my own attempts to use the knowledge of blog readers for such purposes have been disappointing so far. For a compendium of illustration art I've posted from unidentified or incompletely identified sources, click here.

Constantin Alajálov'art has been the subject of a lot of discussion here lately. See what you've been missing here.

There's a fair amount of original New Yorker cover art on this blog. You may as well have a look at it here, especially if you happen to be a museum curator.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Visiting the Barn: Constantin Alajálov New Yorker Cover Art

Illustrations are created for a purpose, and that purpose is generally to be reproduced in print. Not knowing the publication history of an original illustration often means not understanding its context or perhaps even its importance. Charles Martignette was an important illustration collector and he must have known that this original illustration of his by Constantin Alajálov was used as a 1945 New Yorker cover. One wonders what sort of records he maintained and whether the auction house that sold off his estate had access to them. Heritage Auctions is an extremely reliable seller of illustration art, yet even they did not recognize the significance of this particular illustration. The lot description gave the art a reasonable title, Visiting the Barn, and noted the medium of gouache and watercolor on board. There was no publication history provided and the painting sold for only $625.

This may not be the most appealing of Alajálov's New Yorker covers, but it is still a published New Yorker cover and probably would have sold for considerably more if it had been properly identified as such. Yes, the assembly-line nature of the milking operation depicted here is somewhat sobering. And yes, Alajálov has a regrettable penchant for showing sophisticated women smoking cigarettes. Nevertheless, even back then it couldn't have been prudent for even a sophisticated woman to carry a lit cigarette into a wooden barn with hay all over the floor.

Constantin Alajálov, Original artwork, The New Yorker, August 18, 1945

Constantin Alajálov, Framed original artwork, The New Yorker, August 18, 1945

Constantin Alajálov's signature

Constantin Alajálov, The New Yorker, August 18, 1945

Constantin Alajálov, Original artwork, The New Yorker, August 18, 1945

Note:  I have surveyed illustrator Constantin Alajálov's work for the New Yorker in a variety of blog posts which are located here. I suppose I can't keep this up for very much longer.

Some of my favorite posts feature original New Yorker cover art. You can see them all right here.

I'm always looking for fine examples of original New Yorker art, alternative versions, preliminary sketches, presentation drawings, etc. If you have access to the raw material of a future blog post, let me know. If not, don't worry. I don't think I'm going to run out anytime soon.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day with Asterix and Obelix

Happy Earth Day!  Asterix the Gaul and Obelix dominate the Eastern hemisphere in this 1975 painting signed by artist Albert Uderzo and writer René Goscinny. Asterix remains popular around the globe, but Sotheby's Paris may have put a prohibitively high estimate on this piece in their 2012 Bande Dessinée auction. At any rate, it failed to find a buyer.

Albert Uderzo, Astérix et Obélix, 1975
The awkward English translation is probably state of the art, for what it's worth:

Note:  See how Earth Days past were celebrated on this blog here.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Fatigue Duty: Constantin Alajálov Preliminary New Yorker Cover Art

Comparing preliminary with published versions of New Yorker cover artwork allows one to infer the kinds of changes requested by the magazine's editors. Of course, some changes might have been made independently by the artist and some could be more or less random. Constantin Alajálov's preliminary cover illustration dated January 1942 is finished and seems perfectly adequate, but it was repainted by the time of the June publication. The question is, why?

Illustration House sold this alternative version of the June 6 cover in its May 2010 sale. The lot description notes this "is evidently the first version of Alajalov's idea, the main difference being that the woman has an officer's hat." The cap is a part of the uniform and seems to belong there right alongside the gloves. Were the editors concerned that readers might take it for a man's cap, that of a visitor? That would be totally out of context here. Did the editor Harold Ross think she should have hung it on a coatrack? I doubt we'll ever know.

The gloves have definitely been improved upon in the published version. In the preliminary artwork, they are somewhat creepy, like the gnarled roots of a tree. In the final version, they are sleek and elegant, befitting a woman's hand. Unfortunately, the woman's hand holds a cigarette in both versions.

The room has been rendered less frilly and more colorful. The feminine ribbons have been removed from the wallpaper. The window curtains are less ornate. Color has been added to the vanity, the ribbon on the lampshade, and the summer dress. Were the editors concerned that a white summer dress looked too much like a wedding gown? Why on earth were the slippers removed from the floor by the vanity?

Finally, for those who look at the New Yorker of this era as a bastion of propriety and respectability, it is interesting to note one other minor change. The bathroom door has been closed just slightly.

Constantin Alajálov, Preliminary cover art, The New Yorker, June 6, 1942

Constantin Alajálov, The New Yorker, June 6, 1942

Illustration House
Lot 6, May 22, 2010

The Illustration House sale price:

In the previous year, 2009, this lot was offered by James D. Julia Auctions. They were unable to identify it as a variant of a published New Yorker cover, although they did note Alajálov's work for that magazine and for the Saturday Evening Post. They also noted the January 1942 date written on the back as well as the title Fatigue Duty, which I have adopted. The work did not sell.
Constantin Alajálov, Framed preliminary cover art, The New Yorker, June 6, 1942,-1900-1987-prepara-2305-c-696c573d19

By November of 2009, someone identified the New Yorker connection. The work was sold for $900 and the buyer must have taken it to Illustration House for resale:
By the way, the original artwork to the published cover is in the collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. They acquired it in 1955 along with six other works by the artist. They identify it by the title Wave and Maid.
Constantin Alajálov, Original cover art, The New Yorker, June 6, 1942
Collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Constantin Alajálov, The New Yorker, June 6, 1942

Note:  Alternate versions of published New Yorker art are often quite interesting. If you have access to any, please contact me to share your variations on a theme right here on Attempted Bloggery. Fame can be yours, but most collectors prefer anonymity.

More of my blog posts about the New Yorker art of Constantin Alajálov may be seen here.

I have just a few additional posts with preliminary versions of published New Yorker cover art and they may be seen here.

My previous posts about Earth Day are here and they're 100% organic.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Constantin Alajálov's Easter Bonnet

The illustrator Constantin Alajálov created the New Yorker's charming 1946 Easter cover. Hours before dawn, there is a single light on at the bedroom vanity....

Constantin Alajálov, The New Yorker, April 20, 1946

Note:  Other Easter posts may be seen here.

Constantin Alajálov posts may be found here.

You can still read my posts about Passover here.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

My Entry in the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest #423

Those concerned about my declining prospects in the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest can breathe a sigh of relief that after two weeks of inexplicable flightiness I now have resumed my customary weekly submission. Nevertheless, I don't think my odds are too much better. Here is my entry for Contest #423. The frothy drawing is by Gahan Wilson. The squeaky-clean caption is by me.

"May I get the parquet floor wet just this once?"

Here are a few other unused caption ideas of mine:
"Quick, Mavis, my Speedo!"
"Guess where the word creepy comes from?"
"Don't just stand there!  Lock the front door!"
"I'm taking the tub and leaving you."
"You know how you always say I'm getting carried away?"
"Care to join me?"
"You were right. We should have replaced it with a Jacuzzi."
"It's time for our walk."
"No, it's too late for bubbles."

April 25, 2014 Update:  The Finalists

Note:  Last week I didn't remember to submit my caption. No wonder I didn't become a finalist! Read the details of Contest #422 here. Turtle power!

If you'd like to see more posts about Gahan Wilson, you've come to the right place. See all the unsettling stuff here.

Gahan Wilson's New Yorker work is in the Condé Nast Collection here.

The website for the documentary "Gahan Wilson:  Born Dead, Still Weird" by Steven-Charles Jaffe is here. I don't think much is happening over there right now.

Gahan Wilson's 2009 radio interview on the Leonard Lopate Show is archived here.

You can find news about Gahan Wilson on Ink Spill here.

There are also a few illustrations by Gahan Wilson on The Pictorial Arts blog here.

Meanwhile, it's the last day of National Library Week. See my posts celebrating libraries here.

My Easter posts may be seen here.

You can still read my posts about Passover here.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Shore Leave: Constantin Alajálov New Yorker Cover Art

In 1945, merely a couple of weeks after Victory in Europe Day, the New Yorker published this cover art by the gifted Russian artist Constantin Alajálov. The artwork was just sold on eBay for $5,000. The seller did a very good job describing the artwork and the specific moment in history it evokes. Let's first take a look at the sale and the seller's item description:

Constantin Alajálov, Original cover artwork, The New Yorker, May 26, 1945

Constantin Alajálov, Original cover artwork, The New Yorker, May 26, 1945

Constantin Alajálov, Framed original cover artwork, The New Yorker, May 26, 1945

Constantin Alajálov's signature

Constantin Alajálov, Detail of original cover artwork, The New Yorker, May 26, 1945

Constantin Alajálov, Detail of original cover artwork, The New Yorker, May 26, 1945

[End of eBay listing]

One thing that can be said for Alajálov's New Yorker covers is that they don't simply meet our expectations. The best ones possess an uncanny ability to surprise and delight. Imagine it was your assignment to design a magazine cover that would hit newsstands a couple of weeks after V-E Day. How would you illustrate the excitement and expectancy for a return to normal peacetime pleasures at a time when the nation was still technically mobilized for war? Would you set your cover at a military base? Somewhere in Europe? At sea? When you consider these possibilities, the simple idea of depicting numerous enlisted men and WAC's in uniform on shore leave enjoying the mundane delights of a day at the zoo is truly inspired.

Constantin Alajálov, The New Yorker, May 26, 1945

The composition could not have been an easy one to create. What could be more challenging than painting an aerial view of a crowd scene? The technical challenges have all been met splendidly, of course. Yet the image overwhelms the viewer not with its artistic bravura, but with its normalcy. This is a celebration of soldiers with nothing to do but await their return to civilian life while actually enjoying a spring day at the zoo. How sublime!

So the eBay seller is right, at least in part, in saying "The real subject is not the zoo." But the zoo is extremely important as the setting, and it is not just any zoo; it's the Central Park Zoo in New York City. The cover's view of the seal pool faces to the southwest giving the composition strong diagonals. A couple of vintage photos show the site as it was:

The seal pool, Central Park Zoo, 1940's, facing west.
The umbrellas in the background can be seen on the upper right side of the Alajálov cover.
Photo from the City of New York's Parks and Recreation Department

The seal pool in the Central Park Zoo, facing to the west, ground level.
The aviary on the left is a prominent feature of the New Yorker cover.
Photo from the Wurts Bros. Collection from The New York Public Library

The approximate view of the Central Park Zoo as seen on Google Earth today

Constantin Alajálov, The New Yorker, May 26, 1945
Constantin Alajálov, Original cover artwork, The New Yorker, May 26, 1945

Note:  Read more on Constantin Alajálov here.

Additional examples of original New Yorker cover art may be seen here.

See older posts in celebration of on National Library Week here.

Posts about Passover may be found here.