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American Illustration from the Collection of the Delaware Art Museum

September 6 through December 7, 2003


Creating visual images inspired by printed text is the job of the illustrator. The concept of illustration arose with the invention of printing, but it truly flourished in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Categorized in a variety of ways - as fine art by some scholars, as a decorative adjunct to printing by others - in the late twentieth century, illustration received renewed attention as an independent art form, allied to the various means of visual expression that have emerged from all literate cultures. (right: Maxfield Parrish, The Tramp's Dinner, 1905, oil, charcoal, and pastel on paper mounted to cardboard. Cover for Collier's Weekly, November 18, 1905. Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, 1935)

Illustration has a venerable history in the United States, where, since 1856, more than 15,000 trained professional illustrators have produced millions of drawings and paintings to augment printed text in magazines and books. Nostalgic Journey presents some ninety original source drawings and paintings for printed illustrations drawn from the extensive collection of the Delaware Art Museum. It includes examples by some of the best-known illustrators in history - Edwin Austin Abbey, Howard Chandler Christy, Charles Dana Gibson, and Howard Pyle, for example. These works were commissioned primarily for popular periodicals such as Harper's Weekly and Scribners, and were circulated by the thousands. Other paintings or drawings were commissioned to illustrate American novels such as those by Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

While many American illustrators were trained in European art schools, by the early twentieth century there were many sources of instruction in the U.S., and illustrators were recognized as professionals. The Society of Illustrators was formed in New York in 1901. In addition to documenting the work of prominent illustrators, Nostalgic Journey charts the development of printing technology and how it influenced the images produced in the twentieth century. The key relationships among the artist as illustrator, the author of the text, the publisher, and printer make this a fascinating tale of the marriage of art and technology

A 22-page illustrated brochure that includes an exhibition checklist accompanies this exhibition.

The exhibition was organized by the Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Delaware from its significant holdings of original source works by American illustrators dating to about 1930. The Museum was in a unique position to build this collection, which was initially focused on the work of Howard Pyle, a native of Delaware and a preeminent illustrator of the early twentieth century. The show presents a core sample of the 1800 illustrations that are now a part of the Museum's collection.

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Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

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