Discovering art that you love by artists whose work is new to you can be a little like meeting a person to whom you’re romantically attracted — there’s an initial rush of infatuation that is so pleasurable the feeling can be addictive.
Growing up in northern Delaware (in a house a few hundred yards from the home of O.C. Darley), I developed an early appreciation for some of the great illustrators of the late 19th and early 20th centuries — notably Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth and other artists of the Brandywine School.
But when I started to expand my exploration of the amazing work produced in that era, and discovered the work of other American and European illustrators active at the same time, I became so dazzled and entranced that I started searching out any books I could find on these amazing artists. Each new discovery was jolt of artistic pleasure.
As I haunted used bookstores and university libraries, looking to discover more artists from this astonishingly fertile period of great illustration — rightfully known as the “Golden Age of Illustration” — I occasionally came across books that were motherloads of treasure in this respect, compendiums of artists from the era with reproductions of their work, books that were a pleasure in themselves and as well as a gateway to more discovery.
There have been several books of that sort over the years, and I’m happy to have some of them, but I’ve often had to hunt and pay more than I would like to get them. Overviews of great illustrators tend to be released and then go out of print quickly, leaving the searcher looking longingly at overpriced rare book listings.
I was delighted, then, to recently receive a review copy of a new book from Dover Publications that is exactly such a treasure.
101 Great Illustrators from the Golden Age, 1890-1925 is not a rerelease but a brand new book in the grand tradition of overviews of great illustrators, and it is one of the best of the lot.
Author Jeff A. Menges has done a superb job of choosing a fantastic array of artists, providing representative and dazzling examples of their work and presenting them with succinct, erudite commentary that introduces you to each artist and puts them in the context of their time. Every illustrator has at least two pages devoted to images of their work, in some cases four.
I addition to including favorites like Howard Pyle and N.C Wyeth, the book features a who’s who of Golden Age illustrators — Walter Crane, Edmund Dulac, Maxfield Parrish, Arthur Rackham, James Montgomery Flagg, Harvey Dunn, Charles Dana Gibson, Charles R. Knight, Edward Penfield, Frederic Remington, J. Allen St. John, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Violet Oakley, Alphonse Mucha, Jessie Wilcox Smith, J.C Leyendecker, Edwin Austin Abbey, Franklin Booth, Joseph Clement Coll and… well, I’m going to run out of room before I run out of fantastic illustrators to list.
Each article can leave you torn between reading on to the next great illustrator, or rushing out to look for more work by the fantastic artist you just discovered (or rediscovered).
This is a “gateway” book if there ever was one, a path to discovery and a beautiful joy in itself. If you have any feeling for Golden Age illustration, you will “fall in love” several times over in the course of going through its profusely illustrated pages.
Dover has done an amazing job of delivering an effective and pleasing book design and high production values that showcase over 500 images of beautiful illustration, both color and pen and ink, in a 250+ page volume — and somehow kept the price to $35.00 (not a typo — thirty five). [Note: If Dover’s ad is still running in the right column as you read this, you can use the code at the bottom of the ad to get an extra 25% off on this book along with other Dover fine art books.]
I’ll make the usual disclaimers and point out that Dover is an advertiser on Lines and Colors, and provided a free review copy, but if they hadn’t, and I found this in a book store, I would have bought it the instant I saw it and gleefully run home with it tucked under my arm like the treasure it is.