But I would like to get back into it by sharing a bunch of photos I took at the "Illustrating Modern Life" show at the Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. The works on display there are all Golden Age illustrations from the Kelly Collection. And it was one of the best collections of illustration art I have seen in person since a trip to New York I took several years ago.
The "Golden Age of Illustration" is considered to be the period between 1890 to about 1930. So much fantastic art for publication was produced during that period because of the development of halftone printing in the 1880s. The Golden Age came to an end in the late 1920s or early 1930s as tastes began to change and this type of work was seen as old-fashioned and irrelevant.
In my opinion, the Golden Age was indeed the peak of illustration art. Very few artists since then have ever come close to producing the quality and quantity of popular art that was made then by the likes of Howard Pyle, J.C. Leyendecker, Dean Cornwell, Norman Rockwell and many others.
If you ever get a chance to see a show like this, even if it is several hours away from your home town, you should do it. Seeing these illustration pieces in person is incredibly inspiring and informative. There is so much that can be learned from getting up close enough to breathe on them. What I saw in many of the works, in this show at the Weisman, is just how thickly and loosely many of these canvases were painted. Most of them are very large, and the artists really explored the physicality of the paint. Even the Leyendeckers had some very thick areas on them (not many though). And in many of them, like the Rockwell, you can see much of the underpainting showing through the thicker brush strokes, giving an idea of the aritsts' process and methods.
Most of these works should be considered no less than truly great fine art, regardless of the original commercial reasons for creating them. I always like to tell people that the Old Masters from the Renaissance like Michelangelo, daVinci and Raphael were essentially lowly commercial artists, commissioned by the church and the wealthy to do very strictly designed propaganda to sell an ideology and lifestyle to the masses--which is basically the same as advertising art and commercial illustration.
Most of all, seeing shows like this makes you want to go home and paint, and paint boldly--not just get through your assignments or commissions with the bare minimum of work to complete the job, but to go out of your way and take pride in every piece you do, no matter what the purpose of the illustration is or how small the publication. You may not start working that way instantly. Because working with the ethics and care of the Old Masters is hard--really hard. But the idea germinates for a time, hopefully takes hold and finds its way out of you.
The "Illustrating Modern Life" show will be on display until March 31, 2013. You can see more of the collection online and find out about the show here: http://www.thekellycollection.org/home.htm
Click the images below for a larger view.
Howard Pyle's "Dead Men Tell No Tales" 1899
Dean Cornwell's "Waiting" 1920
Dean Cornwell's "$2000 Reward" 1921
Dean Cornwell illustration from the book "The Man from Gallilee" 1928
Mead Schaeffer's "Hide the Body" 1933
J.C. Leyendecker's "Kissing Cupid" 1923
J.C. Leyendecker's "Beau Brummell" 1925
J.C. Leyendecker's "Tally Ho" 1930
Norman Rockwell's "Dreaming of Adventure" 1924