Key to this was his long running relationship with The Saturday Evening Post, for whom he provided over 300 cover illustrations between 1916 and 1963, making him for many the definitive chronicler of twentieth-century USA. However critics have long been scornful of his work, seeing it as sentimental and sanitised, a view which ensures a certain amount of controversy and even suggestions that he is undeserving of an exhibition in a major gallery.
The general consensus was that the tackling of uncomfortable subject matter can only be a positive development within society.
The exhibition itself centres around a complete collection of the 323 printed Saturday Evening Post covers, closely grouped along one long wall, while a selection of the original paintings are interspersed elsewhere in the gallery, along with some of his other (mostly commercial) work.
We’ve just started working with Dulwich Picture Gallery, and for some in our group this was a first visit. The building, the first purpose-built gallery in the world, is astonishingly beautiful, and their collection of European old masters is world class. Although the work of a twentieth-century illustrator might seem to fall outside of their usual curatorial remit, it is part of their American exhibition programme which promotes exchange with US institutions.
We found the exhibition fascinating, both as a portrait of a nation (reflective of major world events), and as a behind-the-scenes look into the arena of commercial art. Bearing in mind that the majority of his work was only ever destined to be – fairly crudely – reproduced at small size in two colours, the level of detail is astonishing. Whether or not you would class his paintings as ‘serious’ art, only the hardest of critics could fail to be won over by his charming sense of humour and pathos. We’d strongly recommend this exhibition to everyone.