Editor's note: The Brandywine River Museum provided source material to Resource Library for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Brandywine River Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:


Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey

March 21 - May 17, 2009


Uninvited guests, falling masonry and carnivorous plants fill the unique, imaginary world of artist and author Edward Gorey. Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey, an exhibition on view from March 21 through May 17, 2009, celebrates this artist and writer, whose masterful pen and ink illustrations and ironic, offbeat humor have brought him critical acclaim and an avid following throughout the world.

During his lifetime, Edward Gorey (1925-2000) published over 100 works, designed sets and costumes for countless theater productions, created popular animations, and illustrated works for a wide array of authors from Charles Dickens and John Updike to Virginia Woolf and H.G. Wells. Elegant Enigmas, organized by the Brandywine River Museum, is the first traveling exhibition of Gorey's work, and a long-overdue tribute. The exhibition features approximately 180 original works, many never before exhibited, including selections from The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Doubtful Guest, The Unstrung Harp, The Gilded Bat, and other well-known publications, drawn primarily from the extensive archives of The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust and significant private collections. (right: Edward Gorey (1925-2000), B is for Basil assaulted by bears, Pen and ink on paper, 2 7/8 x 4 inches. Illustration for The Gashlycrumb Tinies, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963)

Gorey's imaginative and often enigmatic books are filled with Edwardian-inspired images of genteel ladies, men in smoking jackets, children in pinafores and sailor suits, and maids in proper uniform. The stories are a mixture of the ordinary and the ominous, with non sequiturs and brief statements that often leave as much to the imagination as they reveal. They cover a wide array of subjects from the ballet to a haunted tea-cosy to wickedly funny "alphabet" books, showcasing his finely detailed pen and ink drawings.

While the images that accompany Gorey's minimalist text appear simple, the pen work is often complex. These eloquent images might complement his text and on other occasions raise puzzling questions. Gorey rarely depicts murder or mayhem, portraying instead the actions that precede an event or suggest the immediate aftermath. His characters' lack of emotion encourages the viewer to supplement the ongoing narrative. The result is often a delicate balance between the hilarious and ominous uncertainty. When asked about the effect of his work on readers Gorey replied, "In a way I hope it is mildly unsettling."


Exhibition catalogue

Karen Wilkin, Gorey scholar and author of the illustrated catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, writes that the successful "decoding [of] any of his references can simultaneously confer a sense of having been admitted to an inner sanctum and an awareness of how much else you are undoubtedly missing." Wilkin delivers an insightful and intimate review of Gorey's career and provides fresh insights in exploring his life and work. (right: front cover of Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey. Image courtesy of Brandywine River Museum)

On March 21, Wilkin signed copies of Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey in the Museum's Lecture Room. The 124-page catalogue is published by the Brandywine River Museum and Pomegranate Press. It may be purchased in the Museum Shop or online at www.brandywinemuseumshop.org.


Exhibition tour

Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey is on view at the Brandywine River Museum from March 21 through May 17. Other venues for the show include the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas from June 19 through September 12, 2009 and the Orlando Museum of Art from August 13 through November 7, 2010.



Please click here to view an essay by the exhibition's curator, Lee Wierenga.

Editor's note: Resource Library readers may also enjoy:

Links to sources of information outside of our web site are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other web sites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. TFAO neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating web pages see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Brandywine River Museum in Resource Library.

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2009 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.