Monday, January 5, 2015

The Works of John Held, Jr.

Reader Susan DA has been inspired by this blog's Life magazine post on John Held, Jr. to recall in the comments section one of her own favorite "engravings" by the artist. She fondly remembers "An Embarrassing Purchase" (from a 1972 Dover reprint) which comes to mind again and again when she purchases toilet paper. Furthermore, she did a little research and discovered a digitized copy of The Works of John Held, Jr., a book which dates from 1931. The book was copied by the Metropolitan New York Library Council - METRO from a copy in the Frances Mulhall Achilles Library of the Whitney Museum of American Art. It is a beautiful thing indeed. The 1931 book itself is a rarity, although there is a modern reprint available.

Held's linoleum block prints recall the bygone world he grew up in. The fashions of the late 19th century are on display as people go about their daily activities in the days before the motorcar. The theater plays a prominent role in entertainment before the advent of the cinema. The phonograph brings recorded music into the home for the first time. There is some serious and some not-so-serious moralizing about alcohol. The moralizing about sex is less serious, and usually meant to be a 1920's sendup of Victorian attitudes.

Held shows his versatility as an artist and a humorist. He frequently mixes sentimental nostalgia with the conventions of melodrama and pathos. He is not above "low" humor. Yet there is a sly, knowing wit in most of these works, underscored by the multitude of clever ways he appends his by-line as "engraver."

A pun on the very first page!

Joel Sayre's statement in the Life magazine book review that these linoleum block prints ran exclusively in the New Yorker is disproved on this page. Four other magazines are given credit for first publishing the mock-engravings, even though Harold Ross of the New Yorker originally suggested the idea for these. Not listed here is College Humor, but the four "engravings" we have possibly attributed to that magazine do not appear in this book. They will have to wait for another day.

"An Embarrassing Purchase"

Can you imagine?

That sentimental old codger spelled sentimental wrong.

Note:  Don't stop now! See the whole beautiful book here.

After that, refresh your memory with some earlier posts about the most popular artist of the 1920's, John Held, Jr.


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