Friday, April 11, 2014

Standing Room Only: Constantin Alajálov New Yorker Cover Art

I'd love to claim credit for the "Standing Room Only" title of this New Yorker cover art by Constantin Alajálov, but it isn't mine. Someone at Swann Galleries came up with it, I suppose, when the catalogue for the January 20th Century Illustration sale was put together. New Yorker covers from this era don't have titles in the context of the magazine, which only started publishing cover titles on October 12, 1992 ("Malcolm X"), Tina Brown's second issue as editor. The New Yorker has maintained the practice since then and it can even be helpful with the more arcane covers. I suspect many of today's titles are coined by the editors and not the cover artists. New Yorker covers don't really need titles, of course, but of all the changes that have come to the magazine over the years, this one is pretty benign.

There is nothing benign in the countenances of the restaurant patrons shown waiting for a table. Note that their eyes are all wide open with fixed and icy stares, while the diners prolonging their evening are relaxed, jovial, and their eyes are closed. Only the maître d's eyes are half open. Note too how relaxed the postures of the diners are, while those waiting are standing rigidly. One of these men has clenched hands, which is contrasted with the relaxed and supple hand gestures of the diners. By the standards of the day, the main couple's leisurely cigarettes are not understood as a health hazard; the artist merely intends them to be irritating to the impatient throng.

Constantin Alajálov, Original cover artwork, The New Yorker, October 21, 1944
Inscribed "To Elinor/and Martin Bush/from/Alajálov."
Constantin Alajálov, The New Yorker, October 21, 1944
The catalogue cover lot, Swann Galleries, 20th Century Illustration, January 23, 2014
Image added April 14, 2014

Note:  Just in time for the tax season, here is Constantin Alajálov's 1937 New Yorker cover about the federal income tax.

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


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