Sunday, March 26, 2017

Peter Arno: Two Together?

Peter Arno's original artwork for a 1946 New Yorker gag has yellowed with age, but the gag itself remains an ageless example of postwar humor. The setting is the dining car on a train passing through a rural setting. The cheerful maître d' appears quite animated and he leans forward as he expectantly greets two newcomers. So why are their faces so inexpressive? Why are their postures so stiff?

Well, there are a couple of very good reasons. First off, the blank expression particularly on the central figure works perfectly once we realize what the circumstances are. But beyond that, Arno doesn't want our eyes lingering on their faces or for that matter their gestures because the gag only works when we notice what's going on at their wrists.

Arno is well-equipped with the tools to help us out. Note how the men's adjacent arms are heavily shaded, creating a series of bold zebra stripes directed vertically right at the... handcuffs. Likewise, two upward folds of the tablecloth on the right point to the handcuffs like an arrow, while the lines of the forearm of the nondescript (for Arno) woman direct the eye back in that direction as well. Arno is a master of light and shade, and he's used his skills to make the hands stand out at least as much as the faces.

Meanwhile, the magazine's editors, not to be outdone, made use of whatever time there was between the artwork's execution and its publication to hone the two-word caption down to its one-word essence. Talk about efficiency!

"Two together?"
Peter Arno, original art, The New Yorker, June 6, 1946, page 25
Published as "Together?"


Saco River Auction Co. March 15, 2017 sale, Lot 50D

"Two together?"
Peter Arno, original art, The New Yorker, June 6, 1946, page 25
Published as "Together?"

Peter Arno, The New Yorker, June 6, 1946, page 25

Note:  I don't want to shackle you with any undue burden, but do you happen to have any original art by Peter Arno hanging about? Send photos or scans this way and I'll see what I can do.

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