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. (During World War II, women serving in the U.S. Navy were known as WAVES, which stood for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.)
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

May 13, 2014 Update: An earlier sale of the preliminary art was held in 2008 by Trinity International. Interestingly they identified it as published, not preliminary or alternative, New Yorker art, and they gave it the title "The Wedding Dress." It sold for $2,000, more than twice what it fetched in 2009.

Constantin Alajálov, Preliminary cover art, The New Yorker, June 6, 1942
Constantin Alajálov, Framed preliminary cover art
The New Yorker, June 6, 1942
Constantin Alajálov's signature

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.


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