Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ronald Searle and Mostly Mozart

Today begins the 2012 season of New York City's  annual Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center. This summer music festival was founded in 1966. Like many music festivals, it is fairly widely-known, and its clever alliterative name makes it hard to forget.

Illustrator Ronald Searle didn't forget it. He made his home in the South of France, but he used the Mostly Mozart Festival's name on two occasions to make his New Yorker submissions more reflective of the New York experience. Selling illustrations in a competitive foreign market can't be all that easy, but it helps if the local cultural scene is taken into account, particularly in a cosmopolitan market like New York.

The two ink and watercolor works sold to The New Yorker actually have nothing to do with the concerts themselves. Rather, they make use of the festival name to render Searle's typically whimsical drawings more relevant to the local scene. It seems like an obvious approach in retrospect. Of course, it helped that Searle produced great illustrations and wasn't merely name-dropping.

Searle created three versions of The New Yorker cover of August 1, 1988. One variant is similar to the published version except that the T-shirted cat is sitting upright. The artwork to both was submitted to The New Yorker, and the editors were allowed to choose which Mostly Mozart T-shirt they wanted. (As I mentioned here, Searle used the same editor-friendly approach with his 1991 Valentine's Day cat cover.)

The original published cover art was sold to William W. Lockwood, Jr., a cofounder of the Mostly Mozart Festival. At the time, he was executive producer for programming at Lincoln Center.

Ronald Searle, The New Yorker, August 1, 1988

The third variant, below, almost certainly the earliest, depicts an outdoor music festival with a similar bird in a similar tree performing from sheet music. The concert is attended by innumerable cats, all of whom are moved by the music to tears. There is no specific mention of Mostly Mozart.

Ronald Searle, [Mozartean Cats], 1988

So how many illustrators can sell two Mostly Mozart gags to The New Yorker? Only Searle, so far. With any cat artwork, Searle played to his strengths, but he was also exceedingly good with architecture, ornament, and costume, as the following illustration shows. The New Yorker cover illustration may have added Mostly Mozart as an afterthought, but the illustration for Sour Notes must have been a Mostly Mozart gag from its inception. Word balloons are not that common in Searle's work, but in the 1990's he used them in a few New Yorker submissions, such as the Great Moments in Music series.

Ronald Searle, Sour Notes,
The New Yorker, July 12, 1993, p. 57

September 28, 2014 Update: It seems Ronald Searle reimagined a St. Trinian's gag of his from forty years earlier.
Ronald Searle, "Ruddy music lessons..."

Reproduced in 
Musica. Una breve introduzione
By Nicholas Cook, 1998 and 2005

Ronald Searle, "Ruddy music lessons..!"

Note:  My previous Ronald Searle post, "St. Trinian's in Rome," appears here. 

There are no previous Mozart posts. I'm concerned he might be just a fad.


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