Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Blog Post No. 3200: St. Patrick's Day 1938—Will Cotton Original New Yorker Cover Art

A number of the covers—Irvin's of 3/31/34 and 11/21/36, Cotton's of 3/19/1938—would certainly be considered unprintably racist now...
—John Updike
The Complete Book of Covers from The New Yorker 1925-1989 

Will Cotton's 
New Yorker cover for St. Patrick's Day of 1938 is one of the magazine's most notorious. An Irish police officer encounters a drunken black man who passed out on the steps of a brownstone while still wearing his St. Paddy's Day regalia, an empty bottle resting between his legs. Lee Lorenz commented on it in 1997 when he was the magazine's cartoon editor:

Will Cotton's covers, skillfully executed in pastel, are memorable for their elegance and gentle wit. He was a gifted caricaturist, and his portraits of people were always warm, never grotesque. In contrast, the cover accompanying this article, which depicts an Irish cop looking at a homeless black man (3/19/38), manages to abuse both the Irish and blacks.
—Lee Lorenz
The New Yorker, "Cover Stories"
December 15, 1997, p. 124

I don't know whether the black man is indeed homeless or simply unable to make it to his home while under the influence. The cover derives its humor from unfortunate racial stereotypes rendered in rich pastels. The original art, now on the market, shows Cotton's beautiful rendering of a not-so-beautiful subject to be very well-preserved.
Will Cotton
Original art
The New Yorker,
 March 19, 1938

Cotton's gift inscription to illustrator R. Roberts Baldwin directly on the cover art doesn't in any way diminish the political incorrectness of the whole affair. It does seem to imply that "Baldy" was the model for the Irish cop.
Inscribed [to R. Roberts Baldwin] "To Baldy (the figure on the
W. Cotton"

Will Cotton's signature

Will Cotton
The New Yorker, March 19, 1938

The original art is offered by Between the Covers of New Jersey for $22,000. The rare book dealer's description of the item, which includes a more extended quotation from Lee Lorenz, is well worth reading.
Will Cotton
AbeBooks Listing Accessed February 22, 2020

Note:  One thing we like here at Attempted Bloggery is original cover art from the New Yorker magazine. New examples are welcome. Feel free to share any you might have lying about. The other thing we like is corned beef and cabbage.

Can this 3,200th post really be the first opportunity here to mention the art of Will Cotton? How on earth did that happen? The original art remains available for sale at the time of this posting.

The Attempted Bloggery Centennial Posts

Blog Post No. 100
Blog Post No. 200:  A Shaggy Dog Story

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