Monday, May 30, 2016

Peter Arno: Where There's a Will...

The reading of the will to stunned relatives is a time-honored cartoon trope. Peter Arno does not disappoint with the drawing published in the New Yorker on May 16, 1942. Being able to see his original artwork offers insights into the process of creating the cartoon, but there is a serious problem in the image provided by Bill Hood & Sons, which sold the work in 2008. They have gotten the aspect ratio wrong. The photograph, which should be rectangular in portrait orientation like the full page of a magazine, is instead distorted into a square.

At least we can read the original caption written across the top. "Well, what do you know? You're [sic] dear grandfather seems to have left everything to me!" Grandfather is not a great choice here, given the different ages of the family members. The published caption is a bit tighter and uses a rich uncle instead:  "My goodness! Your dear old uncle seems to have left everything to me."

Arno was a master at composing and lighting his scenes. This scene is read from right to left. The lines of site, the family members' arms, and the curtain tie-backs all direct our gaze to the lawyer on the right. The lamps and especially the curtains frame his head. This scene is set in a dark study with two unlit lamps. The light source is from the right behind the attorney and it starkly illuminates all the family members. Paradoxically, the attorney's face is illuminated from the left.

"Well, what do you know? Your dear grandfather
seems to have left everything to me."
Published as "My goodness! Your dear old uncle seems to have left everything to me."
Peter Arno, Original art, The New Yorker, May 16, 1942, page 14

Peter Arno's signature

Bill Hood & Sons Art & Antique Auctions, March 26, 2008, Lot 2211

"My goodness! Your dear old uncle seems to have left everything to me."
Peter Arno, The New Yorker, May 16, 1942, page 14

Note:  Yesterday, the reading of the will took place in a series of cartoon variations by the late Frank Modell, 1917-2016.

My earlier blog posts about Peter Arno are just a click away. I have, at most, one or two weeks left of blog posts on this great artist, but I would be delighted to incorporate more Arno material from readers. Correspondence, photos, and of course original artwork are fair game.

Works of original New Yorker cartoon art may be found here as well. It's a specialty of the house.


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