Saturday, February 29, 2020

Ronald Searle: Design for the Souls in Torment at St. Trinian's Handkerchief

Ronald Searle's collection Souls in Torment was published by Perpetua, his own publishing house, in 1953. The following year came the children's handkerchief, because every schoolgirl celebrates her soul being in torment.

Ronald Searle
Souls in Torment at St. Trinian's
Design for a Sefton's children's handkerchief, 1954

Sworders November 19, 2013 Sale

When this was sold at Sworders in 2013, its provenance was listed as Chris Beetles Gallery in London. Presumably it was repurchased by the gallery at Sworders because it was back there the following November for The Illustrators: The British Art of Illustration 1800-2014.

Ronald Searle
Souls in Torment at St. Trinian's
Design for a Sefton's children's handkerchief, 1954

Ronald Searle
The Illustrators:  The British Art of Illustration 1800-2014
Chris Beetles Gallery, London

Note:  Say, does anyone possess a vintage example of this hanky?

How about an printed price list from the 2014 show The Illustrators? I ask specifically regarding catalogue no. 254, the design for the Souls in Torment St. Trinian's handkerchief. I would expect the gallery to have offered the piece at about twice what it paid, their customary practice.

For more on Searle's St. Trinian's work, start with Matt Jones's 2006 post "St. Trinian's part 1" (of 4) on Perpetua, the Ronald Searle Tribute blog, here.

Ronald Searle's centenary will be celebrated next week on Tuesday, March 3. Be sure to wear your school uniform.

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Friday, February 28, 2020

Peter Arno's Flyboy

New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno usually worked on paper or illustration board to create his signature pieces. Occasionally he worked on canvas using oil paint, but it's rare to see such a painting of his come on the market. It's far more common, in fact, to see oils by the Parisian artist who shared his name. Still, on February 23 an oil painting of a World War II dogfight was offered at Clars Auction Gallery which is unlike any Arno painting we have seen before. An American fighter pilot is seen head on, guns a-blazing, while enemy aircraft fall out of the sky. The auction house dates the work to 1941. To make matters challenging, there is no other Arno oil on canvas available on the internet for comparison, at least none to my knowledge.

The signature looks to be Arno's, but there is a curious shadow effect as if the signature was overpainted and moved. Underneath the signature is the Army Air Corps insignia lacking, apparently, the central red circle one would expect in 1941.

Peter Arno
Clars Auction Gallery
February 23, 2020

Eight bids raised the bidding from the $2,000 opening to a robust $3,750, but the reserve was apparently set precisely at the low estimate of $4,000. (The only time I have ever heard booing at an auction was in response to this practice of setting the reserve at the low estimate, which is the highest price permissible and is not considered very sporting of the seller.) Thus the lot was bought in or passed and everyone's time was wasted over a single bid increment.
Clars Auction Gallery Bidding History

Is the somewhat nondescript fighter pilot depicted wearing goggles identifiable as an Arno figure? There certainly isn't much to go on. Nevertheless, I offer the New Yorker cover of September 3, 1966 in a different medium as a comparison:
Peter ArnoThe New Yorker, September 3, 1966

The details compared:

Anyone with additional knowledge of this piece or of its publication history, if any, should get in touch. Peter Arno oils are rarities. I would be happy to publish any (provided that are not by the French artist Peter Arno). Original Arno works that are new to the internet are of course always welcome here.

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Thursday, February 27, 2020

All That Glitters: Peter Arno Preliminary New Yorker Cover Art

Peter Arno's original artwork from the collection of David Webb Inc. co-founder and former president Antoinette Quilleret, or "Topsy," depicts seven showgirls standing backstage wearing revealing stage outfits and glittering costume jewelry. Together they gather around and admire the smallest but ultimately most meaningful piece of glittering jewelry in the whole chorus line. Whatever the claims of Topsy's heirs to the auction house—Ms. Quilleret passed away in 1996 at age 85 in Marbella, Spain—there is no evidence here that this piece was intended to bear any caption, let alone the very commercial "It's a David Webb diamond!" Still, this might have become family lore.

Peter Arno
Preliminary art
The New Yorker, May 1, 1954

Rather, the colorful artwork was clearly created as preliminary cover art for the New Yorker issue of May 1, 1954. Although not the final published version, it certainly could have been. It is a gorgeous piece, funny and sexy just as we expect from Arno—even a little bit poignant—and it seems all ready to go to press. What's more, Arno has nicely addressed the fundamental compositional problem of how to draw the viewer's attention to the crux of the gag, the relatively tiny engagement ring. Arno's very reasonable solution is to put the ring at the center of the composition and to group the showgirls all around it. Problem solved? Evidently not to the satisfaction of the relentlessly perfectionistic Arno (or perhaps of his editors). Before scrolling down past the auction results to the actual published cover, try to imagine how Arno might have gone about trying to make this wonderful composition even better.

Peter Arno
Framed preliminary art
The New Yorker, May 1, 1954

Peter Arno's signature

Verso, Whatman board

Peter Arno
Clars Auction Gallery

Peter Arno
Preliminary art
The New Yorker, May 1, 1954

Peter Arno
The New Yorker, May 1, 1954

Right off, Arno has muted the colors in the finished art to shades of powder blue for both the setting and the costumes, he has eliminated the distracting sequins from the costumes, and he has also removed the distractions of the stage lighting and backstage signage by relocating the scene to the dressing room. By extending the showgirl's arm, he isolates the ring, suspending it in the relatively sedate right third of the cover. He has had to reposition all the women to the left side of the principal woman's outstretched hand and reduced the number of women to five, three of whom lean in toward the ring while the principal woman, in contrast, does not. The showgirls' gazes all point to the ring as they did in the preliminary art, but now their gaze is aligned and easier for our eye to follow; the curve of her arm and the V of the betrothed woman's fingers further lead us to the ring; the pinky of the woman on the right also points to the ring as does the vertical line of the vanity. So...has Arno improved the composition?

I would like to hear from anyone with additional information about this piece or any related pieces that may be out there. Peter Arno sometimes made multiple versions of his New Yorker work prior to publication and these often remain unseen and unknown unless they come up for sale. I love to show all examples of original Arno art on this blog, and I think preliminary work gives us some special insights into his process that we can't get any other way. So if you have access to original art by Peter Arno, you might want to send me some high quality images and tell me what you know about the art. Then we can explore it together here on the blog.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Cartoon Collections Caption Contest #64

That's one small step for my three entries in the Cartoon Collections Caption Contest #64. I found this one to be quite tricky. Does this scenario suggest a national tragedy? The drawing is by Carolita Johnson.
"There's a sort of funny story about your life support."
"Not the moon. Two more guesses."
"The good news is you're very much alive. The bad news is you're way off course."

March 5, 2020 Update:
  The Winner

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Ronald Searle: Lemon Hart Rum Poster

Advertising for the Lemon Hart Rum campaign illustrated by Ronald Searle between 1951 and 1962 generally carries the tag lines "Have a good rum for your money" and, less often, "Two in harmony." The "two" refers to both Lemon Hart Rum, represented by the tall and spindly Mr. Lemon Hart in his lemon-colored suit, and Lamb's Navy Rum, represented by the short and stout Mr. Lamb in, of course, navy blue. How does one choose between the two dark rums? We can surmise that even Mr. Lemon Hart fancies the taste of both. A vintage advertising poster shows Mr. Lemon Hart and Mr. Lamb demonstrating some excellent teamwork, up to a point. It was sold on eBay late in 2017 for a very reasonable $149.

Ronald Searle
eBay Listing Ended December 16, 2017

Ronald Searle
eBay Item Description

Searle's work for the Lemon Hart Rum advertising campaign is exhaustively documented in "Let's toast to the New Year with Lemon Hart Rum!" This 2007 post by Matt Jones appears on Perpetua, the Ronald Searle tribute blog, here.

Need I remind you that Ronald Searle's centenary will be celebrated next week on the third of March? 

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Monday, February 24, 2020

My Entry in The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest #698

All hail my entry in The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest #698 for February 24, 2020. The drawing is by Michael Maslin.

"Did you ever think maybe your head wouldn't lie so uneasy if you wore a hipster hat?"

March 2, 2020 Update:  The Finalists

March 9, 2020 Update:
  I voted with Whittier.

March 16, 2020 Update:

Note:  In last week's Caption Contest, cartoonist Jeremy Nguyen
 showed us just how treacherous it could be to be forced to walk the plank. Heck, I've been wearing a life jacket ever since. Take a walk on the wild side of Contest #697...
if you dare!

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Sunday, February 23, 2020

Derek Stanford's Copy of The Dark is Light Enough by Christopher Fry

How chummy should a writer be with his literary critic? Should he, for example, provide the critic with a signed copy of his latest published work? Sure, it must happen all the time. It certainly couldn't have been much of an issue for poet and playwright Christopher Fry (1907-2005) when he gave writer Derek Stanford (1918-2008) a copy of his verse play "The Dark is Light Enough" in 1954. Stanford had already written Christopher Fry: An Appreciation (1951) and Christopher Fry Album (1952), so he was clearly a strong public advocate of Fry's work. The cover illustration, obscured in the bookseller's composite image, is by Ronald Searle (1920-2011).

Christopher Fry
Royal Books Catalog Sixty-One Listing Accessed March 17, 2019

It would be remiss of any blogger, especially this one, not to show the full Searle cover illustration:
Ronald Searle
"The Dark is Light Enough" (1954) by Christopher Fry

While we're at it, let's briefly digress to Searle's cover illustration for Fry's verse play "A Sleep of Prisoners" published in 1953. The lower part of the illustration shows the prisoners in their uncomfortable makeshift sleep while the upper part soars into the dreamlike interior of St. Thomas's Church where the 1951 London premiere was staged. Note the glaring inconsistency in how Oxford University Press orients the type on the book's spine, here with the infuriating bottom-to-top orientation. These two books were published only a year apart, but one wouldn't want to shelve them next to each other without taking the expedient of quietly flipping one over.
Ronald Searle
"A Sleep of Prisoners" (1953) by Christopher Fry

  At the time of posting, Derek Stanford's copy of "The Dark is Light Enough" is still available from Royal Books.

Searle's work for the London stage is summarized in "Theatre Design," a 2010 post on Perpetua, the Ronald Searle tribute blog, here.

Ronald Searle's centenary is coming up on March 3rd. So how should we celebrate?

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Saturday, February 22, 2020

John's Copy of Ronald Searle's Russia for Beginners

John's copy of the humorous Cold War classic Russia for Beginners (1960) by Alex Atkinson and Ronald Searle is inscribed by Searle with a lively drawing of a dancing Cossack. There is also a curious ALS included noting that the book was mistakenly sent to the wrong John, lucky guy.
"John with best wishes/for 1961/Ronald"

Ronald Searle
AbeBooks Listing Accessed October 10, 2018

"Dance of the Cossacks"
The Alexandrov Red Army Ensemble (1965)
Music by Boris Alexandrov
Dance production by P. Virsky

Note:  Mark your calendar: March 3 will mark Ronald Searle's centenary. You can help me celebrate by forwarding original Searle works, especially ones new to the internet.

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