Thursday, May 25, 2017

Blog Post No. 2200: Peter Arno Drawings from the Estate of Frank Modell

Cartoonist Frank Modell (1917-2016) started working at the New Yorker around 1946 as an assistant to James Geraghty, the art editor. Geraghty, among his many responsibilities, personally handled cartoonist Peter Arno, the magazine's most talented and most temperamental cartoonist. A number of unpublished Arno originals now have come to light from Mr. Modell's estate. He had in his possession at least one cover rough and at least five cartoon roughs plus one published drawing. Most of these predate Mr. Modell's time at the magazine. A few lack captions. A few have been carelessly folded and sustained considerable paper loss. While some of these conceivably could have been gifts from Mr. Arno, most of these might very well have been forgotten scraps left carelessly about the office which no one wanted and which Mr. Modell had the foresight to grab and take home before they were lost forever.

Four such cartoon roughs were offered for sale in March by Lotus International Auctions LLC. The lot went unsold. Two other drawings from the Modell estate are now in the collection of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State.

We'd better have a look at everything. Let's start with the Lotus auction:

It's never a good idea to lead with a blurry image.

"Now stop and think a minute—did I bite you?"
Peter Arno, preliminary cartoon art
 The New Yorker, July 5, 1930

Condition aside, it's not bad, but Arno was not satisfied with this image. He went on to lower the vantage point to a dog's eye view in the published version of "Now stop and think a minute—did I bite you?" This lower camera angle gives us a more wide-angle view of the scene with the vertical lines diverging exaggeratedly toward the top. Arno also has repositioned the assailant so that his back is now toward us and we can appreciate the sheer power of his windup. The cartoonish stances seen in the rough have been eliminated and we now have a far less awkward and far more dramatic scene. The two principle figures veer away from each other in a V which exaggerates the diverging lines of the background. Their arms serve as counterweights, transforming the V of the figures into an M. The contrast of light and dark is more pronounced. Thus a gag cartoon that was already worthy of publication in just about any magazine in America was reworked by Arno into something substantially more effective.
Peter Arno, The New Yorker, July 5, 1930, page 14


The next piece started out as a promising Peter Arno gag, but it didn't end up that way:
"And what, may I inquire, were you doing in my house?"
Peter Arno, preliminary New Yorker cartoon art, c. 1949

"And what, may I inquire, were you doing in my house?"
Peter Arno, preliminary New Yorker cartoon art, c. 1949

"And what, may I inquire, were you doing in my house?"
Peter Arno, caption to preliminary New Yorker cartoon art, c. 1949

By the time of publication in the May 7, 1949 issue, this gag was reassigned to the very capable Sam Cobean, but this is problematic. The idea is clearly better suited to Arno's talents and very well may have been written expressly for him—in fact, it reads to this day like a classic Peter Arno gag. So why on earth give it away to another artist, however adept, who simply can't make the most of it? Arno's treatment of the irate husband is palpably funnier than Cobean's ever could hope to be, and while Arno's composition still needs some fine-tuning (note, for example, the impossible angle of the husband's foot), the finished cartoon should have been an instant sensation. Perhaps an explanation, in part, is that instead of working out the problems in this drawing, Arno had to work on the famous sizzling platter cartoon for publication in this very issue, and certainly no one else could have taken on that assignment. It seems likely that James Geraghty was charged with assigning, and sometimes reassigning, ideas from the gag writers to the New Yorker's stable of talented artists, a task which may not always have been so enviable.
Sam Cobean, The New Yorker, May 7, 1949, page 37

Sam Cobean's gag is long forgotten. Arno's contribution to the same issue is a revered classic that provided the title for his 1949 collection Peter Arno's Sizzling Platter:
Peter Arno, The New Yorker, May 7, 1949, page 35

Another unpublished Arno cartoon from the 1920s has suffered every indignity: tearing, creasing, paper loss, and caption loss. Usually the two Whoops Sisters are engaged in a bit of cheeky, low-comedy dialogue but, uncharacteristically, only one sister is present here. Still, there would be two speakers. My guess is that the first speaker would be the man with the cane who would say something very proper along the lines of "I say, my good fellow, you've gone and splashed that fine lady!" That would be followed by a very saucy reply from the lone Whoops Sister beginning, inevitably, with "Whoops! ..." Note how Arno uses the perspective lines and the cane to lead our eyes to the poor, bespattered Whoops Sister.
["Whoops!... ?"]
Peter Arno, unpublished Whoops Sister New Yorker gag, c. 1920's


Peter Arno's signature

A final unpublished gag of a hunting party and, it would seem, a car valet looks to be press-ready. It too comes to us missing its caption.
Peter Arno, unpublished New Yorker gag, c. 1930's

Peter Arno's signature

Peter Arno

Lotus International Auctions, LLC Item Description

The Modell estate went to the considerable expense of framing the above four pieces under Museum Glass. The artwork was likely too fragile to be sold otherwise, but opening the bidding at $2,000 was asking a lot for pieces in such sorry condition. Two other works from the estate were donated to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Here's how the museum catalogued them:

Peter Arno
Franklyn B. Modell Collection of Cartoon Art
The Ohio State University
Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Peter Arno
Franklyn B. Modell Collection of Cartoon Art
The Ohio State University
Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Both drawings are dated 1939 by the Billy Ireland, but they're obviously much earlier, let's say 1926-1929. The shower drawing is related to a series of "Why, Auntie" drawings Arno did, none of which are as funny as he seems to have thought they were and none of which appeared in the New Yorker. The idea is to present a scene in which "Auntie" is surprised naked by her nephew in a compromising situation he is too young to understand. Arno's knowing reader could at once take in the nephew's innocence, Auntie's embarrassment, and the erotic fun inherent in the situation—not a bad formula, really, except that it does involve depicting an underage child exposed to something of a salacious nature to make its point. This drawing is apparently unpublished, but it evolved some forty years later into Arno's Lady in the Shower drawing, which was intended by the artist to be a worthy companion to his madcap Man in the Shower drawing, although really it was never in the same league. The notion that Arno couldn't let go of this singular awkward idea over his entire adult life is one that is perhaps best left unanalyzed.
Variation on the "Why, Auntie" drawings and an early precursor to the Lady in the Shower drawing

"Why Auntie—what big eyes you have!"
Peter Arno's Parade (New York:  Horace Liveright, 1929)
Peter Arno's Favorites (New York:  Blue Ribbon Books, 1932)

"Why, auntie! You've got your hat on. Are you going out?"
Peter Arno's Hullabaloo (New York:  Horace Liveright, 1930)
Peter Arno's Favorites (New York:  Blue Ribbon Books, 1932)

"What the hell goes on here, Auntie?"
Peter Arno's For Members Only (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1935)

Lady in the Shower (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1967)

Now it's time we move on from a woman being surprised in a a woman being surprised in a bathtub. It seems this is the only one of Frank Modell's Arno drawings actually to be published, but it appeared in a cartoon collection and certainly not in the New Yorker. The Billy Ireland dutifully lists the subjects of this drawing as sexual harassment, sexual lust, and voyeurism, but unfortunately it's the interracial aspect of this voyeurism that Arno found funny here. He was amused, it seems, by Asian men lusting after white women. Along these lines, a New Yorker cover of his from 1928 shows an Asian servant silently contemplating a modern sculpture of a voluptuous nude woman.
"Hi, Kid, whatchya doin'?"
Peter Arno, original art
Peter Arno's Parade (New York:  Horace Liveright, 1929)
"Hi, Kid, whatchya doin'?"
Peter Arno's Parade (New York:  Horace Liveright, 1929)

Peter Arno, The New Yorker, December 8, 1928

Note:  Well, that's all for now, but it doesn't have to end here. Readers are asked to contribute their own insights that will further help to place these six drawings by Peter Arno from the estate of Frank Modell in their proper historical context.

Open the floodgates! Are there other drawings in the New Yorker's history worked up by one artist and subsequently assigned to another? Readers are invited to share specific examples of different artists' approaches to a single idea drawing prior to publication in the magazine.

A trove of Peter Arno's work is hidden away out there in private collections. Send in scans or photos of what you've got and let's see what we can figure out together.

Frank Modell also owned a preliminary New Yorker cover by Peter Arno. That one was discussed earlier on the blog here.

Want to know more? Peter Arno:  The Mad, Mad World of The New Yorker's Greatest Cartoonist is Michael Maslin's fascinating biography of the artist published in 2016. It's available on Amazon here.

The Attempted Bloggery Centennial Posts
Blog Post No. 100
Blog Post No. 200:  A Shaggy Dog Story

Quick Links to the Attempted Bloggery Archives:

Peter Arno

Frank Modell

Sam Cobean

James Geraghty

Preliminary New Yorker Cartoon Art

Original Book Illustration Art

Unpublished art

What the hell goes on here?


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