Tag Archive for: illustration

Dr. Seuss: a 20th century cultural phenomenon

NEW YORK – Is there anyone in the world who hasn’t heard of Dr. Seuss? Certainly every American baby boomer is familiar with the iconic author and illustrator of such quirky, classic kids’ books as The Cat in the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Green Eggs and Ham, Horton Hears a Who and If I Ran the Circus.

In all, Dr. Seuss wrote and illustrated more than 60 books that were translated into over 20 languages and sold 600 million copies. No wonder his name is known the world over. He wasn’t just an author and illustrator; Dr. Seuss was a true cultural phenomenon.

Colored marker on paper sketch drawing of the Cat in the Hat, signed by Dr. Seuss, 8 x 10in. Sold for $2,500 at an auction held Jan. 12, 2017 by Christiana Auction Gallery. Image courtesy of Christiana Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Theodor Seuss “Ted” Geisel (1904-1991) was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father managed the family brewery until Prohibition, when he was appointed to supervise the city’s public park system. Young Geisel entered Dartmouth College and became editor of the school’s humor magazine, the Jack-O-Lantern. When he and some fraternity brothers were caught drinking gin on campus (Prohibition had not yet been repealed), Geisel was ordered by Dartmouth’s dean to step down from the Jack-O-Lantern. He stayed on, secretly, using the name Seuss – his mother’s maiden name, which actually rhymes with “voice” – and it stuck. The “Doctor” was added later.

Geisel’s early artwork often employed the shaded texture of pencil drawings or watercolors, but in his children’s books of the postwar period, he generally made use of a starker medium pen and ink normally using just black, white, and one or two colors.

Narragansett Beer serving tray with an image illustrated by Dr. Seuss, 12in wide, only a few edge nicks, otherwise excellent. Sold for $270 at an auction held Aug. 10, 2014 by Morphy Auctions. Image courtesy of Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

His later books, such as The Lorax, used more colors. Geisel’s style was unique – his figures were often “rounded” and somewhat droopy, like the faces of the Grinch and The Cat in the Hat. Almost all his buildings and machinery were devoid of straight lines, even when he was representing real objects. For example, If I Ran the Circus shows a droopy hoisting crane and a droopy steam calliope.

Geisel’s illustrations often conveyed motion vividly. He was fond of a kind of “voilà” gesture in which the hand flipped outward and the fingers spread slightly backward with the thumb up. This motion was done in the introduction of the various acts of If I Ran the Circus, and in the introduction of the “Little Cats” in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. He was also fond of drawing hands with interlocked fingers, making it look as though his characters were twiddling their thumbs. He was a true original, someone whose artistic style was instantly recognizable.

Four Dr. Seuss limited edition prints, including ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!,’ edition 1506/2500, ‘Oh, The Stuff you Will Learn!,’ edition 995/2500, ‘Hop on Pop,’ edition 188/1500 (shown), and ‘Star Belly Friends,’ edition 576/1500, offset lithographs in colors, each signed in plate lower right, with embossed stamp lower left. Sold for $4,800 at an auction held June 14, 2020 by Clars Auction Gallery. Image courtesy of Clars and LiveAuctioneers

“Dr. Seuss had a tremendous talent for bringing whimsical characters to life,” said Alexa Malvino, a senior fine art specialist with Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, California. “No matter the age of his audience, it’s impossible to not be captivated by his vibrant colors and imaginative designs. The magical works he created under his nom de plume Dr. Seuss, geared for children’s books and drastically different from his work as a political cartoonist, have transcended generations.”

Malvino said Dr. Seuss has been a household name since the 1950s. “He invites his viewers to enter the vast world of imagination where animals talk, landscapes take on other worldly designs, and vibrant shapes and patterns distort illusions of space and time,” she remarked. “To say he was a pioneer in children’s cartoons would be an understatement.”

Signed ink watercolor on paper attributed to Dr. Seuss, image of creature in Pink detailing, unframed on paper, 7 x 9in. Sold for $448 at an auction held April 15, 2020 by the Benefit Shop Foundation. Image courtesy of the Benefit Shop Foundation and LiveAuctioneers

Pam Stone, owner and founder of the Benefit Shop Foundation Inc. in Mount Kisco, New York, described Dr. Seuss’s work as “whimsical artworks and fun to look at.” She said, “For most of us who grew up reading his books, these fantastical creatures, especially the Cat in the Hat, are fun to look at but they go deeper than that. Geisel created these with a serious-minded goal in mind: to teach children how to read, be confident and above all else, to use their imagination. Books like I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! or Oh, The Places You’ll Go are two of his books that first come to my mind, which explore these themes.”

Vince Sarchese of American Antique Auctions in Haddon Heights, New Jersey, said Dr. Seuss’s artistic style is immediately recognized all over the world. “His creative characters and environments function together in a kind of Rube Goldberg world, so playful and joyous but ready to fall apart at any second,” Sarchese said. As an illustrator, he consistently brought his written stories to life – no easy task. He kept children wanting more all the time through his kinetic and iconic characters. His art is whimsical, joyful and sometimes even angry, but always effective. I would rate him as a first-class illustrator.”

Dr. Seuss giclee on canvas, titled ‘Golden Girl,’ signed lower left, numbered 197/375, 36 x 24in, framed 44 x 32in. Sold for $1,845 at an auction held May 24, 2019 by Neue Auctions. Image courtesy of Neue Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Alexa Malvino said Dr. Seuss’s work and imagery have been desirable and sought after since their creation. “Not only have more than 600 million copies of his books been sold, but many of those stories have been made into motion pictures, several in recent years,” she stated. “The art scene has also benefited from his coveted images. Collectable prints, sculptures, and even rare paintings and drawings have sold for astonishing values, at both galleries and auctions alike.”

In fact, Malvino added, one of Dr. Seuss’s highest auction records was the sale of a small original illustration from his book The King’s Stilts, which she said sold for just over $80,000 in 2007. “Today, reproduction works and newly printed ‘limited edition’ series do threaten the market of his works by flooding it, thus driving down prices,” she pointed out. “But, for truly original works, it’s possible the market will never diminish, just as his stories and captivating imagery show no signs of disappearing from American, or even international, culture. As long as his art continues to bring out the child in all of us, it’s likely we’ll always keep wanting more.”

Pair of Dr. Seuss first day covers with Dr. Seuss drawings, signed, from the Cordelia Platt autograph collection. Platt was the president of the United Autograph Collectors Club. Sold for $172 at an auction held Nov. 9, 2019 by American Antique Auctions. Image courtesy of American Antique Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“The market is fairly steady and strong for Dr. Seuss artwork, with original pen and ink and watercolor illustrations being among the most collectible,” The Benefit Shop Foundation’s Pam Stone said. “These works, especially rare and unpublished ones, have brought around $10,000 each in the past. Marker illustrations, often in red and blue, are more commonly seen and, when signed, can bring a few hundred dollars. We sold several such artworks recently, and buyer interest was high among new collectors just starting to get into collecting this genre.”

Vince Sarchese said with children learning to read books by Dr. Seuss and billions of books in circulation, there’s little doubt his original works will continue to increase in value. “The interest has never been higher and has been increasing in recent years,” he said. “I can’t see any decrease in demand on the horizon for the works of Dr. Seuss. His unique style succeeds in making us laugh and think. Just like any other art or antique, provenance and condition are the key to value. The great thing is, small signed works are still affordable, but I wonder for how much longer.”

Andrew Wyeth: inspired by winter

NEW YORK – Since Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) was homeschooled, he spent considerable time alone as a youth. Although his father, illustrator N.C. Wyeth, introduced him to figure study, geometrics and watercolors, the young man received no formal artistic training. Nor did he study museum masterpieces.

Instead, Wyeth’s earliest works were inspired by solitary walks in and around his hometown, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. He found the neighboring Kuerner Farm especially inspiring. Through 50 years, he created nearly 1,000 drawings and paintings of its buildings, landscapes, animals and owners—Anna and Karl Kuerner.

‘Cold Spell,’ 1965, watercolor on paper, 19in x 28in, signed lower right: ‘Andrew Wyeth.’ Realized: $200,000 + buyer’s premium on Nov. 1, 2019. Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

Many of these pieces, like Brinton’s Mill (1958), depict leaden skies above snowy landscapes. “Oh, I love white. Marvelous,” Wyeth said to Richard Meryman in a 1965 Life magazine interview. “My wild side that’s really me comes out in my watercolors—especially of snow, which is absolutely intoxicating to me. I’m electrified by it—the hush—unbelievable … the loneliness of it—the dead feeling of winter.”

‘In the Orchard Study,’ gouache, watercolor, 1972, signed, sheet size 20½in x 28¼in, overall 32½in x 40¼in. Realized $57,000 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Leland Little Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

While wintry works by Wyeth may seem contemplative, moody or melancholy, their composition is often dynamic. In the Orchard Study (1972), explains Claire Fraser, fine art and silver director at Leland Little Auctions, “features a push and pull to the image. The dramatic diagonal of the hillside, broken by the lone figure and the outline of the tree, keep the eye engaged.”

‘Cow,’ pencil, signed, 4½in x 7in. Realized $1,400 + buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy of Kaminski Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Wyeth believed that strong personal associations, when brought to significant images, imbued the artworks with their human spirits. Winter 1946, set near the location his father was killed, for example, embodies such feelings. So may Snow Hill (1989), which depicts personally significant people celebrating May Day in a winter setting.

‘Snow Hill,’ limited edition collotype, signed and numbered, framed 41in x 54¼in. Realized $2,000 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of Case Antiques Inc. Auctions & Appraisals and Live Auctioneers

Wyeth was not only solitary, but also secretive. In 1986, he revealed that, for over 15 years, he had surreptitiously drawn and painted 240 intimate images of an attractive woman named Helga. Since no one had known about them, they – and the artist – immediately attracted international attention.

Soon afterward, Wyeth’s wife disclosed that his discretion was not unusual. Through their 46-year marriage, he had habitually left to paint without telling her where he would be. Furthermore, she suggested that his secret work imbued his ongoing, public work with visual and emotional power.

‘Braids [Helga],’ color offset lithograph, 1979, signed and initialed, 9 5/8in x 12 3/16in, edition unknown. Realized $900 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of Stanford Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

“Wyeth’s Helga pictures resonate with viewers on two levels,” Fraser explained. “They are fascinating in a gossipy sense; but then viewers can place themselves in the landscape or relate it to their experiences and build their own narratives around the scene.”

Wyeth also drew and painted numerous scenes of Cushing, Maine, the site of his summer home. Christina’s World (1948), one of his best-known works, portrays a handicapped woman from the neighboring Olson Farm, dragging herself across a field “like a crab on a New England shore.” To some, its dark imagery suggests abandonment, loneliness or hopelessness. To others, it symbolizes courage in the face of adversity. Wyeth continued depicting the Olson Farm until Christina’s death in 1968.

Andrew Wyeth painted this watercolor titled ‘Empty Basket on a Sloping Hill’ on the title page of the book ‘Christina’s World,’ by Betsy James Wyeth, published 1982. The work is pencil-signed and inscribed, ‘Painted for Larry Webster with warmest thanks for the great design on this book, Andrew Wyeth.’ Realized: $24,000 + buyer’s premium in 2010. Image courtesy Clars and LiveAuctioneers

Although Wyeth is often deemed a rural realist, he considered himself an abstractionist. “Most artists just look at an object, and there it sits, ” he explained to Meryman. “My struggle is to preserve that abstract flash – like something you caught out of the corner of your eye, but in the picture you can look at it directly.” To many, his spare images, worked in subdued watercolor, grainy drybrush or egg tempera, reflect not only deep emotion, but also the essence of life itself. In Wyeth’s timeless world, flimsy curtains flutter in the breeze, a sun streak illumines a half-opened door, potted geraniums peek out from a window, and snow flurries caress dry-bone boughs.

As the artist often remarked, “I paint my life.” Today, it touches others.