Saturday, December 17, 2016

Weighing In: Peter Arno Preliminary New Yorker Cover Art

Before the introduction of the personal weighing scale in the 1940s, there really wasn't much opportunity to weigh oneself, although coin-operated scales were a popular novelty. A vintage Peter Arno watercolor depicts a moving man taking advantage of a rare on-the-job chance to weigh himself free of charge. With the sliding weights balancing all the way to the right the news can't be very good for him, but, given the man's portliness, why is it so unexpected?

Arno might be overplaying his hand here, portraying his stunned mover with comic exaggeration in both facial expression and body language. Fingers are splayed on both the man's hands with the far arm raised awkwardly behind him. The orange strap along the left-hand border indicates that this was designed as a New Yorker cover, although it wasn't published in this form.

The actual New Yorker cover of October 1, 1932 is executed in a surer hand and may postdate this preliminary artwork by up to several years. Arno's signature changed, although he signed only his initials in the published art. That awkward far arm is now out of sight and the mover has been given a proper bowler hat for added comic effect. A second mover, this one with a contrasting muted expression, has been added to the composition.

The artwork is from the estate of cartoonist Frank Modell (1917-2016), who began his New Yorker career as an assistant to cartoon editor James Geraghty. Sotheby's noted that Arno had produced 99 covers for the magazine, but failed to identify this piece as preliminary to one of them. It weighed in at a hammer price of $2,400, which comes to $3,000 including the buyer's premium.

Peter Arno, Preliminary art
The New Yorker, October 1, 1932

Peter Arno, Preliminary art
The New Yorker, October 1, 1932

Peter Arno, The New Yorker, October 1, 1932

Note:  Examples of original Peter Arno art are always welcome here. Step right up and let's see what you've got. I'll even guess your weight!

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Peter Arno


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