The explosion of illustration at the start of the 20th c. can be attributed to multiple factors that produced an overall social and technological change at the turn of the century. The Golden Age reached its peak right before WWI and declined after the war. Prior to 1880, a number of key occurrences took place that, retrospectively, laid the groundwork for the Golden Age to occur.
In the late 18th c. Thomas Bewick, an English engraver, fully realized the potential of wood engraving, establishing it as a more efficient process that would soon surmount copper and steel plate etching in use. While at the time the engraver was more highly regarded than the illustrator because of their responsibility to interpret and transfer the illustrators’ drawings onto the block, later advancements in printing technology would encourage illustrators to assume a more dominant role in the process. Some even took on the role of engraver themselves. John Tenniel’s 1861 version of Alice in Wonderland was illustrated entirely in woodcuts. Artists such as Rockwell Kent and Lynd Ward gained prominence through their wood engravings during the time of the Golden Age. No longer embarrassed by the drastic changes that usually resulted from an engraver’s interpretation to the original works, illustrators began making claims to their own work. This initial step which led artists to sign and claim ownership over their work would propel illustrators into receiving recognition for their work and eventually into gaining the celebrity status that many enjoyed during the Golden Age.
The American Copyright Act of 1790, the first federal copyright act issued in the United States, discontinued the practice of re-engraving drawings done by foreign artists for use in American publications and encouraged the use of local talent instead.
In 1861 English artist and designer William Morris founded “The Firm,” otherwise known as the decorative arts firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., which marked a revival in decorative handcrafts at risk of being lost to industrialization and inspired the formation of the Arts & Crafts group. Morris’s work supported the idea that a book could be seen as an integrated work of art in itself, an idea reflected in new periodicals being issued in the mid 1800s that also emphasized the wholly designed book. Various other art movements also continually influenced the art that would come to define the Golden Age. After nearly 200 years in isolation, Japan reopened its borders for trade in the later half of the 19th c. and in 1862 Japanese art was exhibited in Britain for the first time. The flat colors, line work, and asymmetrical compositions seen in many artists’ work throughout the Golden Age are derived from the influence of Japanese prints and woodcuts. As an alternative to the Victorian era and Arts & Crafts movement, Japanese art profoundly affected European art of the late 19th c.
Edmund Evans, an English engraver and printer whose contemporaries include John Tenniel, Lewis Carroll, and Beatrix Potter, published his first color printing, a children’s book, in 1865, revolutionizing the printing industry once again. Advances in printing technology in the 1880s and 90s and the industrial revolution created new opportunities for illustrators, changing the way illustration was exhibited and made available to the public. Mass production along with the invention of high speed presses and the steam powered rotary press cut printing time in half, allowing millions more copies to be produced per day.
The development of new photomechanical processes such as the half tone plate in the early 1880s increased the ability to accurately reproduce monochrome and color prints. With the use of photography, size restrictions on drawings were banished, allowing drawings to be resized to fit the block for engraving. Artists were no longer required to draw their pieces to scale for the sake of the finished product. Unlike printing processes which reproduced only solid colors, the half tone plate, aptly named for its ability to pick up grays and ‘half tones,’ was able to produce gradations and tonal variations. This was achieved by photographing the desired image through a glass screen that had been etched with lines crossing at right angles and at 45 degree angles to the edge of the plate, much like the pattern of wire seen in window screens. The minute dots formed in the printing plate by these crossing lines served as a diaphragm for light to pass through onto a negative of the copy. Light passing through the dots produced larger and smaller spots on the negative based on the relative lightness or darkness of the original. Once the negative became transferred, the dots, which essentially converged to create a solid color, gave the image entirely smooth gradations of tone.
With the emergence of this new technology, color printing became even more efficient. Before the half tone plate, only solid blocks of the three primary process colors, cyan, magenta, and yellow, along with the complementary colors they produced, could be printed. With half toning, these three colors plus black, known cumulatively as CMYK, were each printed on a separate plate and, through layering, were able to produce a full continuous range of colors. This new four-color CMYK printing process was able to capture paint, color, and mark, liberating artists from working solely with pen & ink. Early reproductive techniques had limited artists to black & white linear methods that could be used for wood cuts, wood engravings, and copper plate engravings, but these new technologies opened up a new range of possibilities, allowing artists to derive styles from contemporary painting instead of the traditional methods of drawing. The lines between illustration and easel painting began to blur.
Along with the new, more sophisticated and efficient printing technologies, postwar improvements in rail systems led to more widespread, easy distribution of publications. This combination of increased availability and improved reproduction made it possible for illustration to emerge as a more distinguished means of communicating ideas. Rather than remaining auxiliary to the text it was accompanying, illustration’s purport began to take on a more leading role in expressing the ideas and interests of the times. And while illustration in periodicals and magazines made images with text something easily accessible to the general public, the way it was presented and marketed managed to increase the esteem held for it, rather than lose value as a commodity. Illustrated gift books, highly embellished and lavishly decorated books that were works of art in themselves, became popularized in Europe during the 1840s. These books, which were more expensive than other mass produced publications, preserved the integrity of the illustrated book when it could easily have fallen victim to the commodification most other materials subject to the same widespread availability faced.
Cultural Background in America
In America, the turn of the century marked a period of cultural transformation and an increased self-confidence in the nation as a whole. The uncertainty that characterized America during the 19th c., at that point hardly a century old, began to dissipate by 1900. Feelings of insecurity towards the stability of a newfound nation gave way to a sense of pride in its demonstrated success thus far. The increase in demand for pictures and the optimistic philosophy that characterized the Golden Age paralleled the development of the nation. As America became convinced of its own historical importance, the illustration that simultaneously developed reflected and encouraged this sense of confidence.
Technological advancements had reached a point where printed material as a form of entertainment was still fresh and had not yet been eclipsed by radio or television, and photography was still in its infancy as a way displaying still images. Literacy became nearly universal among middle-income families. As literacy and the availability of education expanded across social classes, reading as the primary source of entertainment was at its peak, and was met with an accommodating response from authors and illustrators. Such an increase in the demand for publications equated to an increase in opportunities for illustrators.
In the early 1800s, illustration was merely an intermediary to a career in painting. But as the Civil War produced a higher demand for newspapers and magazines as families at home were eager to hear news from the front-lines, the hiring of artists to visually document the progression of the war transformed illustration into a profession. The term “Special Artist” was coined to describe these artist-reporters. After the Civil War, the demand for graphic depictions of events did not diminish, but rather extended beyond the war to include other current events, local and worldwide, political and social issues, and images of popular fashions and hairstyles of the time. Americans expected a certain level of information to be made available to the general public through various periodicals and magazines. The illustration that fulfilled these requirements flooded contemporary publications.
Before the Civil War, Harper’s Monthly Magazine, which appeared in 1850, and Harper’s Weekly in 1857, were two of the earliest instances where periodicals started relying heavily on visual material. The idea of the “penny book” originated in England, enforcing William Morris’s idea of the totally designed book by giving equal consideration to both text and image and how it related to the integrated whole. While the quantity of these publications was limited, their significance lies in the new concepts and styles that would be introduced to illustrators and publishers and that would later be improved and expanded upon with the new influx of periodicals after the Civil War. In America the introduction of the “dime novel” caused a revolution in American reading and publishing during the 1860s and 70s as well. In 1860, brothers Erastus and Irwin Beadle, inspired by the same sense of nationalism that struck the rest of the nation at the turn of the century, generated the idea of creating novels about America by America, and selling them for the affordable price of 10 cents under the name of “Beadle’s New Dime Novels.”
As advancements in printing technology increased the availability and quality of printed material and the Civil War sparked a demand for more reading material and published news, the illustrated monthly gained momentum and popularity. Following suit of Beadle’s dime novels and as a response to this demand for more printed material, Scribner’s magazine was introduced in 1887 to compete with Harper’s, becoming the first to include color illustrations since the introduction of color printing in the 1860s. In 1888 Collier’s Weekly, another rival, was founded. In 1897 The Saturday Evening Post was resurrected to rival Harper’s Weekly, which would showcase many big-name artists’ work throughout the Golden Age and solidify their careers, perhaps most notably Leyendecker and Rockwell. In 1893 McClure’s Magazine was founded, an immediate success at 15 cents a copy. Scribner’s Monthly was renamed as The Century, and it, along with Harper’s Monthly and Scribner’s Magazine, were among the leading periodicals of the time. By 1903, eighty-five percent of magazine circulation was indebted to periodicals selling for ten cents or less.
Because the industry was so competitive, publishers sought after the best illustrators to create a unique and distinguishable ‘look’ for their publications that would attract customers. Advertisers competed against each other to hire the best illustrators to promote their products. Collier’s and Ladies Home Journal were among the publications to adopt larger format magazines, the standard size seen today, as a result of advertisers’ demand to run bigger ads. Before this ‘cheap magazine’ revolution of the 1890s, literature was mostly directed towards a privileged elite and was intellectual in nature. Now that mass production and higher literacy rates necessitated the need for less demanding literature that appealed to a wider array of people, a shift towards more lighthearted, entertaining literature occurred. This type of writing lent itself more to illustration than did the more intelligent literature that previously dominated. Prior to 1870, children’s literature was also too serious and lacked any real substance. However, from 1870 on society began to recognize the needs of children as different from those of adults and started to write with a more realistic attitude towards child development in mind. With books being written that appealed more to children, illustrations that corresponded to this need were also more in demand.
In conjunction with the amount of American publications being produced, the content of these publications and the images that filled them reflected the priorities and interests of the people being advertised to. Shorter working hours and new labor-saving inventions in the home and workplace allowed for more leisure time. The general economic stability of the nation that permitted an increase in salaries and decrease in the cost of living left Americans searching for new ways to spend their time and money. Sports became a popular recreational activity and a rise in the popularity of sports magazines saw a rise in illustrations depicting these subjects. Following the newfound sense of pride instilled in many Americans at the end of the 19th c. was an interest in establishing distinctly American traditions as a way of celebrating holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving. Winslow Homer and Thomas Nast, who visualized the look of the popular Santa Claus icon still prevalent today, were among the popular illustrators of these holidays. The illustrated gift book appeared in America as a way to commemorate new holiday traditions. While illustrations of leisurely activities such as sports would eventually come to be replaced by photography, the staying power of holiday illustration and continued success of these gift books may be attributed to a kind of sentiment evoked through them unable to be replicated with photography.
If illustration was a mirror of the culture and personality of the time, then it also delineated the lives of the rich and poor in urban areas, trying to show the reality of the hardships of the lower class from a sympathetic standpoint and broadcast the glamourous lives of the upper class using a mix of humor and social satire. As society started to pay more attention to the behaviors and fashions of the wealthier upper class as something to be admired and emulated, illustrators and reporters were employed to make this depiction of the social elite available to the public, in some early form of what would now be considered tabloids. Among the upper class, the wealthy vied for social status and recognition, and the reporter-illustrator was enlisted to document the latest fashions and hairstyles to showcase to those not part of this elite. A popular example of this type of illustration is Charles Dana Gibson’s “Gibson Girl,” a perfect example of the ‘ideal’ standard he created for women of the time.
Illustrators themselves were among some of these social elite, earning their wealth and recognition through their careers in illustration. The average illustrator earned around $4,000 per year, while more popular ones had the potential for between $10,000 and $75,000, considered extremely wealthy by the standards of the day. Illustrators enjoying this high profile status frequently socialized with each other, developing a strong sense of community amongst themselves. Before 1900, when illustrators sold drawings to publishers, they forfeited the reproduction rights and original drawings along with them. So it comes as no surprise that as illustrators started gaining recognition, publishers began selling the works for a profit while the illustrators received none of the royalties. In 1900 a group of disgruntled illustrators met to discuss these complaints and in 1901 formed the Society of Illustrators. Some of the original members include William T. Smedley, who would become the first President of the Society, N.C. Wyeth, Charles Dana Gibson, and William Glackens. In 1905 the Society began admitting women and in 1921 became incorporated. Its intent was to provide an organization where illustrators were able to discuss the business aspect of their careers and to provide a social atmosphere that allowed friendships among illustrators to develop. Many other societies and organizations that originated at the turn of the century would have similar goals. Around the time of the formation of the Society, Howard Pyle gathered his students in Chadds Ford, PA, into what would come to be known as the Brandywine School. The Franklin Inn Club (est. 1902) was aimed at bringing together authors, illustrators, editors, and publishers, and included members like Howard Pyle, Thornton Oakley, George Hardey, and George Gibbs. Many other clubs also originated in New York, including the Salamungdi Club, the Lamb’s Club, the Watercolour Society, Tile Club, and Dutch Treat Club. In Connecticut the Knocker’s Club was the basis for the Silvermine Artists’ Guild. Female illustrators who were often restricted access to these all-male fraternities formed their own clubs, like the Plastic Club in Pennsylvania. Jesse Wilcox Smith, Elizabeth Greene, and Violet Oakley of the Red Rose Girls might even be considered something of an informal organization.
Surrounding Art Movements in Europe
It can certainly be inferred that the major illustrators were a well-educated group. Their knowledge of the surrounding economic market as well as contemporary and previous art movements should not be overlooked. Especially in regards to the latter, the influence of these preceding movements had a profound impact on both the style and subject of many Golden Age illustrators. To gain a better understanding of the context within which the Golden Age occurred, it is worth taking a closer look at a few specific movements in particular.
One of the most important artistic occurrences preceding the Golden Age was the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Founded in 1849 by seven young English artists, among whom John Everett Millais was included, the group sought to correct a detrimental trend that they believed was occurring among the established art scene of the day. The group was reacting specifically to the Royal Academy of Arts and what the Brotherhood observed as a mechanistic and soul-less teaching of art. Considered in the context of the fledgling Industrial Revolution in both Europe and America, a growth in technology that epitomized efficient, standardized reproduction, the Brotherhood's concern seems well founded and somewhat prophetic. The Brotherhood bore their name from Raphael, whom they believed to be the height of influence for the academic manner of painting that they sought to distance themselves from. They believed that the strict tendency towards only classical poses and methods of compositions greatly hindered an artist's creativity and kept the arts from ever reaching its most true and beautiful apex. This debate was part of a broader struggle between ideas of Neoclassicism and its antithesis, Romanticism. While the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood would certainly not be included with the Neoclassical movement, they would also not fit exactly within the ideas of Romanticism. Rather, the Brotherhood looked all the way back to medieval art. To the Brotherhood, the work of this time represented a mystical and spiritual integrity that they believed to have been stamped out by the rote method of academic drawing. The importance of individual responsibility and personal creative integrity was a major goal of theirs. Medieval work tended to be mostly illustrations of Biblical subjects. This was important to the Brotherhood because it helped establish the relationship of the artist to literature, a connection that would later be strengthened by Golden Age illustrators. At the time, most medieval peoples were illiterate and depended on pictorial interpretations to communicate ideas. This would have an effect on the Brotherhood who took many of their subjects from mythology and contemporary literature. Some of the authors whose works were illustrated included the Romantic poet John Keats, Alfred Lord Tennyson as in shared subject of "The Lady of Shallot", and Shakespeare as in Millais' famous "Ophelia". These authors worked with themes that the Brotherhood believed to be genuine and integral to all human life.
The effect of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood on the Golden Age of Illustration is substantial. In a time before the effect of Modernism would eradicate all doctrines of painting, the Pre-Raphaelites expanded the limits of the formal elements of painting, as well as subject matter. This would, later, allow the illustrators of the Golden Age to experiment with shape, form, and composition to best serve the interest of their subjects.
The Pre-Raphaelites were not the only artists that influenced Golden Age illustrators. Another integral movement, one whose influence reaches all the way to Art Nouveau, and whose doctrines manifested from the evolution of the Pre-Raphaelites was the Arts and Crafts Movement. Spurred on by William Morriss and D.G. Rossetti (the latter of which was a founding member of the PRB), the Arts and Crafts movement also felt the need for a return to a more medieval center of inspiration. In Europe, the Victorian age ushered in prosperity and peace unlike anything in the living memory of those living in England. This coupled with the, seemingly, unstoppable force of industry changed a section of the cultural mentality to one of decadence and excess. This manifested itself in a style that was cluttered and packed with as much detail as one could muster. To Morriss, this distanced the work from the human element of craft, specifically the individual who was not part of Victorian high society. Morriss opened up his own art guild set upon the foundation that the worker was not treated as only a means to an end, but with the proper respect that one so gifted and talented deserves. This, inversely, placed a high level of responsibility on the craftsmen to uphold their own standard of quality in the work they produced. There is a strong similarity between the works being done by this group and the intricate and handcrafted illuminated manuscripts, especially those of the 15th century. Books done in the Gothic style were completely unique because of the lack of proper printing technology. For this reason, the guilds that reproduced such hand painted books such as Books of Hours, Gospels, and Psalters enforced a strict standard of craftsmanship.
The influence of the Arts and Crafts movement can be seen in beginnings of the European Golden Age in the work of Walter Crane (1845 – 1915), a children’s book illustrator. As a young child, Crane was so talented that he began working with an engraver at 13. Crane’s pages were as much design as illustration. Like many of the artists considered part of the Arts and Crafts movement, every detail of the page was considered, from the main scene to the text and ornamentation. The compositions of his page layout resemble the “bordering” in illuminated manuscripts, filled with finely wrought animals, plants, and figures. Another factor contributing to his unique style was his attempt to emulate the hand-printed look of Japanese woodblock prints, of which Europe was newly becoming aware. His most well known books of the time included Grimm’s Fairy Tales and a children’s version of Aesop’s Fables.
However, if Walter Crane was considered a young talent in engraving, then Gustave Dore (1832-1883) truly deserves the title of prodigy. By the age of 16, Dore was the highest paid illustrator in all of France. His maturity of skill also reflected his intellect as some of his first literary illustrations were for Rabelais. The influence of the Pre-Raphaelites is quite evident in the sublime nature of his scenes, often sweeping, beautiful, and slightly haunting images. His seeming determination to the naturalism of his depiction of nature with attention to every detail is a staple of Pre-Raphaelite work as well. When looking over a body of Dore’s work, it’s hard not to notice how varied his compositions are. Dore pushed the limits of image making and story telling through his clumping of figures, extreme horizon lines, graphic areas of dark and light, use of drastic perspective systems, and the vastness of his landscape. He illustrated his own version of the Bible that became so popular that it has had nearly 1000 editions printed. Dore was published almost entirely in Europe besides for Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, which was his only U.S. publication.
As the European Golden Age was in its prime, so was Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). At a young age he, as most of us MICA illustrations seem to, struggled with a personal style. This problem of visual maturity is interesting in the wake of the Pre-Raphaelites in that there was more and more freedom when it came to making an image. This freedom, coupled with an ability to work in many styles, was initially a hindrance for Rackham, but one that would ultimately benefit him. Elements of naturalism can be seen in many of Rackham’s landscapes in the subtlety of tone and attention to minutiae. Rackham was also conscious of the revival of medievalism as evident in both his subject matter and craftsmanship. Also, in a less obvious way, Rackham references marginalia of medieval illuminated manuscripts in his activation of the borders of his pages with small scenes and figures. Rackham would start his career in the editorial field, writing and illustrating for periodicals. Later, with the massive success of Rip Van Winkle (one of the first books to use tipped-in plates), Rackham would help forge the popular phenomenon of gift books with his own version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales among others. He also illustrated Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an author who was a popular source of inspiration among the Pre-Raphaelites.
Being 15 years younger than Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac (1882-1953) began his career, as the advances in printing were really beginning to blossom into accurate and efficient methods. Tipped-in plates printed in the color-separation method were becoming standard practice for most successful publishing companies. Originally from France, Dulac moved to England and was commissioned his first illustration there at the age of 22. Unlike Rackham, whose outlined style was partly to cover up the mis-registration of colors, Dulac was able to forgo this last step and leave his illustrations much more painterly. His connection to both the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement is clear in his high amount of surface detail, especially fabric. Also, like Walter Crane, Dulac was heavily influence by the increasing influx of Japanese prints coming to Europe. This influence would later take over his career as he began to move to a more stylized approach. His version of Arabian Nights became very popular and his continued in this orientalist tradition with The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Like many before him, he also illustrated Shakespeare.
Of the great European Golden Age illustrators, Kay Nielsen (1886-1957) is one of the youngest. His age shows in his influence as well. Rather than looking to the romantic work of the Pre-Raphaelites, Nielsen was more influence later trends in the Arts and Crafts movement as well as by artists like Aubrey Beardsley. Nielsen’s more modern approach was grounded in the 20th century as he would draw from Japanese woodblocks as well as the beginnings of Art Nouveau. In one of his most famous books, East of the Sun West of the Moon, the reference to Japanese painting is unmistakable. This influence couple with graphic pattern and composition defined a new direction in illustration.
Europe vs. America
Throughout the 19th century, the Golden Age of illustration in America was greatly affected and fueled by the Golden Age in Europe. While the European Golden Age is distinct from that of the United States, there was still a great deal of interchange between them. The influence of specific artists and broader art movements in Europe can be seen in American artists’ work and the expertise they brought back to the U.S. after traveling abroad and returning with a European education.
American artists dissatisfied with the training provided to them by American art schools traveled to Europe in search of a more comprehensive education. The standard in most American art schools was to begin drawing from plaster casts before being introduced to the live model. Contrastingly, life drawing began right away in European schools. As in many schools rooted in the classical European tradition, the figure was used as a reference for the creation of a classical ideal. American artist Benjamin West (1738-1820) was at the forefront of this new trend, becoming the first American painter to complete his art education in Europe. He would eventually settle in London and open his studio up to other American painters, eager for the same kinds of opportunities as him. West, who would later become the President of the Royal Academy of London, paved the way for American artists seeking new opportunities abroad. One of West’s own students, Charles Willson Peale, brought the teachings he acquired back with him to the U.S. when he founded the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1805.
The effect of this European influence can be seen among many notable American illustrators’ works. German born J.C. Leyendecker, who moved with his family to Chicago when he was eight, was among the group of American artists who traveled to Europe for an education. J.C. and his brother F.X. Leyendecker studied at the Académie Julian in 1896 where artists such as Bonnard, Matisse, Vuillard, Duchamp, and Mucha would later study, located in Paris, the then capital of the art world, and returned after two years of study to work in the U.S. Artists traveling to Europe and returning to the United States with newfound experiences and knowledge was not uncommon. Other artists following suit included Lynd Ward, who studied at the Leipzig Academy for Graphic Arts for a year where he was taught wood engraving by Hans Alexander Mueller. Here also Ward was exposed to the techniques of other artists exploring ideas of storytelling without words, which Ward would apply to some of his most well-known works such as Gods’ Man. Violet Oakley of the Red Rose Girls was one of the few privileged women illustrators to study in Paris in 1895.
Artistic and literary movements that originated in Europe and would come to influence American art include Symbolism and Art Nouveau. Art nouveau, a revolution in the decorative arts, made its sudden appearance in America with Penrhyn Stanlaw’s cover of the Sept. 17 1896 issue of Life magazine. The trend of decorative, linear drawings seen in many subsequent artists’ work, especially from communities of women artists who often collaborated with each other, can be directly attributed to the French art nouveau movement. Aubrey Beardsley was an important influence on American illustrators. Symbolism, a European literary movement, arose as an opposition to rationalism and an attempt to express what was thought to be inexpressible with the use of symbol and metaphor. The use of symbols and allusions can be seen in the work of early Howard Pyle around the mid 1890s as well as Maxfield Parrish and other American artists.
Specific artists, along with these general art movements, contributed to the exchange of artistic ideas between Europe and America. Walter Crane, an English artist, provided a direct connection between European and American illustration of the 1880s and 90s, drawing influence from the Pre-Raphaelites as well as Japanese art, which first appeared in Europe in 1862. George Cruikshank (1792-1878), a London-born British artist who was a contemporary of John Tenniel and James Gillray, also served as an enormous influence on illustrators of the 20th c. Cruikshank’s versatility is evidenced in the broad range of work he accomplished throughout his career. While known best for his caricatures and book illustrations, the emphasis of his work shifted frequently from political commentary and social satire to work for magazines, comics, and novels. His illustrations for the first English translation of the Grimm Brothers’ German Popular Stories paved the way for the Golden Age of children’s book illustration and overall, his career prepared the way for the golden age of journalism that took place after the mid century. Cruikshank’s influence can be traced through the work of American artists such as Arthur Frost, Charles Dana Gibson, and early Howard Pyle. The expressive pen work of European artists Hablot K. Browne and John Leech also had a direct influence on both European and American naturalist illustration of the 19th c.
The impact of American artists who traveled to Europe for their schooling and returned to the U.S. more experienced and accustomed to working from live models not only affected the work done by these artists and the emphasis on figuration, but the demand for live models as reference changed the illustrators’ relationship with the publishers they sought work from and indirectly altered the business of illustration. While previously, illustrators were kept on staff at publication houses, publishers began hiring freelance to avoid the cost of having to hire live models. While illustrators were now responsible for hiring and paying for their own models, hiring freelance proved beneficial for both the artist and the publisher. Publishers could change illustrators frequently, introducing new styles and artists into their publications, and illustrators were free to accept assignments from various publishers, increasing the breadth of their work. Illustrators who started to specialize in certain types of work gave art directors a new factor to consider when hiring artists for work. The new process of hiring freelance also enabled more women to pursue a career in illustration while managing a home and raising a family.
The Golden Age in America
While the artists and illustrators whose names have become synonymous with the Golden Age of Illustration are not bound to any one place, and are certainly quite spread out across the globe as a whole, one absolutely cannot deny the importance of the location of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and in particular, the Brandwine River area. Not only for the importance of artists such as Maxfield Parish or NC Wyeth, but for the sheer number of talented and recognizable illustrators that emerged from the appropriately named, "Brandywine School" during this point in time. Even more than the location itself, the importance of one person cannot be underestimated, because talking about the Brandywine School is to talk about the Father of American Illustration, himself, Howard Pyle. Born in 1853 in Wilmington, Delaware, was an illustrator, a writer, and most importantly, a teacher and mentor to an abundance of young illustrators.
Howard Pyle's style can directly be attributed to the work of Winslow Homer, as this is the artist who most influenced him. Homer had no formal art training, but was instead taught by his artistic mother, Henriette Homer. He created line art drawings from photographs for Harper's Weekly, who unfortunately, often did not cite their illustrators, making it somewhat difficult to tell, even to this day, which pieces were created by Homer, and which were not. The main qualities that were attributed with these early works are clean outlines, stylized, simplified forms, dramatic light and dark contrast, and lively figure groupings. These would remain things that would be significant in his work, even into his later works. In 1861, Harper's sent Homer to the front lines of the American Civil War, where he did sketches of the things he saw, ranging from the armies and commanders to the horrors of war. While these drawings did not gain much notoriety, they are significant in that this is the period where Homer's art changed greatly. He honed his skills in this time, and upon finishing, he began a career as a painter. Many of his initial paintings were based on his numerous drawings from his time spent on the front lines, including Sharpshooter on Picket Duty (1862), Home, Sweet Home (1863), and Prisoners from the Front (1866). These were very well received by critics, one writing, "Winslow Homer is one of those few young artists who make a decided impression of their power with their first contributions to the Academy… He at this moment wields a better pencil, models better, colors better, than many whom were it not improper, we could mention as regular contributors to the Academy." Quite possibly the most noteworthy thing about Homer's work is that he is not a master of any one medium, but works extensively in a large variety, including wood engraving, watercolor, and oil paints.
Winslow Homer's knowledge of design, his mastery of composition and color, and ability to create drama were things that could be attributed to his work during any period, and these were the things that would go on to influence Howard Pyle, and eventually to NC Wyeth, and others taught by Pyle at the Brandywine school. Pyle would become primarily a painter, and go on to incorporate many of the stylistic things that made Homer stand out, including lively figure groupings and a great understanding of light and dark contrast. His majors works include classic tales such as The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, and original stories he wrote himself, such as Otto of the Silver Hand and The Wonder Clock. He made work primarily for a young audience, and when doing Robin Hood, he revised the legends and ballads to make them more appropriate for children, taking out moments where Robin Hood commits murder. He also altered the tales in order to create a cohesive, unified story. For the illustrations, he was not particularly concerned with creating any more historical accuracy than the original tales had, though he did alter a few small details, such as changing the name of the queen in "Robin Hood and Queen Katherine" to Queen Eleanor, who was historically compatible with King Richard the Lion Hearted. Howard Pyle was very well respected during his life, and remains influential to not only illustrators, but other artists as well. A quote from artist Vincent Van Gogh claimed that Pyle's work "…struck me dumb with admiration."
What would come to change the world and illustration on a whole even more than Pyle's artwork itself, was the fact that he is one of the most important and prominent teachers in illustration history. He began teaching in 1953 at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and then started his own school after 1900, called the Howard Pyle School of Illustration Art (later called the Brandywine School). He also brought his proteges to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania during the summers between 1898 and 1902. During his time at Drexel, he would teach students such as Frank E Schoonover and Jessie Wilcox Smith, while at his own school and at Chadds Ford, he would teach Thornton Oakley, and most Notably, NC Wyeth. Oakley spoke on Pyle's illustration philosophy, saying, "We never heard one word from our beloved teacher concerning tools and methods. His utterances were only of the spirit, thought, philosophy, ideals, vision, purpose." He went on to say, "Illustration is the highest type of pictorial art …because illustration is simply a pictorial MAKING CLEAR, and if a picture makes clear a message in a big way, it is an illustration, whether it be made for magazine, book, mural decoration, or exhibition."
Quite possibly the most notable of all of Pyle's pupils was NC Wyeth, who attended Pyle's school in 1902. Wyeth was a prolific illustrator, creating over 3,000 paintings and illustrating 112 books. He illustrated a wide variety of topics including pirates, the wild west, and medieval Europe, and he illustrated stories such as Treasure Island (1911), Robin Hood (1917), Robinson Crusoe (1920), Rip Van Winkle (1921), and The White Company (1922). He was first published when he was only 21 years old, by the Saturday Evening Post, doing an image of a bucking bronco for the cover. A year later, the same magazine asked him to do a Western story, and Howard Pyle suggested that he go west to prepare for this job. Wyeth made several trips there, and for a period, created many illustrations having to do with Cowboys and Native Americans. He dramatized the old west, and notably showed the Native Americans in a sympathetic light. Upon returning home, he did a series of farm scenes for Scribner's, drawing inspiration from Winslow Homer's landscape paintings and scenes of Americana. In 1911, Wyeth painted Treasure Island, which would go on to become one of the more well known series of works , not only of Wyeth's, but of the Golden Age of Illustration as a whole. He would continue to illustrate books and create more narrative work, often making pieces that focus on the moment either before or after an important action, as that would build the most tension and drama in his work. Not only did Wyeth create some of the definitive work of the Golden Age of Illustration, but his children, such as Andrew Wyeth went on to become artists and illustrators as well.
Besides Wyeth, a large number of widely successful illustrators came from Pyle's school as well as Drexel Institute. One important group to take note of would be that of Jessie Wilcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Violet Oakley, better known as the Red Rose Girls. They studied under Pyle at the Drexel Institute, and in fact, he is who gave them the name of Red Rose Girls, because they all lived together at the Red Rose Inn, in Villanova, Pennsylvania. They lived there from 1899 to 1901, and later moved to Codslea, in the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. Jessie Wilcox Smith was a prolific illustrator, working in books and magazines, and is most well known for her covers on the women's magazine, Good Housekeeping. Other work of note would be her twelve illustrations for The Water Babies, by Charles Kinglsey. Elizabeth Shippen Green worked in children's books, and in 1911 signed an exclusive contract with Harper's Monthly. Violet Oakley, drawing much inspiration from the Pre-Raphaelites, utilizing color to capture luminosity, was the most politically and socially motivated of the Red Rose Girls. She was a pacifist, a feminist, and a socialist, and strove to reflect her belief in a better world through her art work. She did a number of murals throughout her career for All Angels Church, Cuyahoga County Courthouse, and most notably the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building, where she did 43 murals. This was the first time that an American woman artist was given such an important and prestigious public commission. In 1905, she also became the first woman to receive the Gold Medal of Honor from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
Even outside of the Brandywine area, though, and outside of Pyle's tutelage, plenty of talented and prolific illustrators came out of the States during the Golden Age of Illustration. One in particular who one can't go without mentioning, is Maxfield Parrish. He was artistic from a very young age, as his father was an engraver and landscape artist, so he was greatly encouraged to pursue art, and his talent was supported immensely. Along with Norman Rockwell, he isn considered one of the most popular and influential illustrators in American history. His technique in particular is something to take into consideration when speaking on the Golden Age. He used a very specific and exact method of glazing, in an attempt to make work that would print as accurately as possible. He laid down colors in separate layers, in the order that they would be put down when printed in magazines. He laid down all of the cyan, then yellow, magenta, and finally black, which today is commonly know as CMYK. Another stylistic trait that is noteworthy is that at an early age, he would often cut out his drawings and place them as cut offs, and some believe that this led to his "diorama" feel to the placement of his figures.
Artists during this period had plenty of sway over the public, and with many of them, whose names might not be as well known today as Pyle or Wyeth, their work lives on. James Montgomery Flagg is especially well-known for being a prominent propaganda artist, creating the famous "I Want You" poster, featuring himself as Uncle Sam. He used himself as a model, adding aging in the image, simply to avoid the trouble of having to get a model. JC Leyendecker, well known for doing a large amount of magazine covers, primarily for the Saturday Evening Post, where he completed 322 covers, was incredibly successful, and until Norman Rockwell, no other artist was so solidly identified with one publication. He helped popularize the modern images of Santa Clause and the New Year's Baby. Besides specific characters, some works of fiction are only as well known as they are because of illustration. Rockwell Kent's illustrated version of Moby Dick helped that book attain the status that it has. He was originally approached to illustrate Two Years Before the Mast, but he suggested Moby Dick instead, which at the time was a somewhat obscure book. Because of the popularity of his illustrated version of the book, it was rediscovered by critics in the 1920's, which assisted it greatly in making it the well known book it is today.
While the majority of the American illustrators mentioned thus far have worked extensively in color, using watercolor, oil, egg tempera, and other forms of paint to achieve great narrative works, not every artist during this time worked in color. Pen and ink was widely popular as well. Charles Dana Gibson worked this way, and became an important figure in the Golden Age of Illustration. Gibson worked in Life Magazine for over 30 years, though his art appeared in all of the major New York publications, Harper's Weekly, Scribners, and Collier's. Most noteworthy about this artist was the creation of the Gibson Girl in 1890. She was meant to personify the ideal woman, and was used to sell a variety of items ranging from tea cups to pillow covers. She was tall, slender, and had her hair piled atop her head to show off her long, "swan-like" neck. Another prominent pen and ink artist, and known even more so for his style, was Franklin Booth. Franklin Booth is quite possibly the most influential pen and ink artist in history, inspiring artists for years to come. Artist Bernie Wrightson has been quoted as saying, "Franklin Booth always will be so much better than practically anyone who ever picked up a pen." Most notable about Booth's style is that he began by copying magazine covers which were wood engravings. He believed them to be pen and ink, so he developed a unique style that is incredibly detailed, has huge scale extremes, and decorative scrolls and borders. One other artist working in a style much removed from the rest of the Golden Age was Lynd Ward, who worked primarily in wood blocks. He created illustrations for many books such as Frankenstein, Faust, and Beowulf, but later moved on to creating work for children. He is notable as his is the first American creator of wordless novels.
Just as advances in printing technology had allowed talented artists to realistically reproduce their work for print, advances in early 20th century photography allowed for more accurate and cheaper reproduction of photos. The reason for the decline of the importance of the illustrator is the same reason for their incline in the first place: new technology. Publications needed to utilize this new technology in order to keep public interest and to keep up their revenues. The American culture was shifting, and with it, the subjects and mediums of image makers. The market for advertisement in fashion, which had once been so influenced by the vision and work of Leyendecker and Charles Dana Gibson, was now shifting to photography. Different sources cite different dates ranging from 1914 to a few years after the end of WWI, and opinions differ greatly as to what other factors may have aided in bringing about the end of the Golden Age. Some speculate that other art movements, such as abstract expressionism, helped draw attention away from the likes of Rockwell Kent or Maxfield Parrish, while others claim that a growing arrogance within the artists themselves created a distaste throughout the people for those in the public eye. Whatever the exact time or reason for the decline, the Golden Age did soon come to an end, though it still stands today as one of the most influential and important times in the History of Illustration. boom! done.
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