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?

April 27, 2014 Update:  The Clark Art Institute was founded in 1955 from the collection of Sterling and Francine Clark. It seems almost certain then that the Alajálov works in the museum today were collected by Sterling and Francine Clark themselves. To put together a collection of this quality, they must have had to purchase the artwork shortly after publication in the New Yorker. They knew exactly what they were doing. Whether they kept records of it for the benefit of today's curators I don't know. If they did, the online catalogue of these works doesn't reflect it.

May 19, 2014 Update:  According to the July 15, 1946 issue of Life magazine, these chorus girls are actually the famous Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall.
Life, July 15, 1946, page 70

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.


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