Published: June 12, 2001
NEW YORK CITY – The American Illustrators Gallery will exhibit “The Spirit of America,” from July 1 to September 30, with original artwork by Norman Rockwell, Howard Chandler Christy, J.C. Leyendecker, Edward Penfield, Gerrit A. Beneker and J.F. Kernan, among others.
Propaganda has played a vital role in times of war and no one has been more instrumental in its conception than illustrators. The paintings and original artworks in this exhibition by American illustrators further defined America’s role and participation in World War I and World War II.
For the first time in American history, the fine arts were officially recognized as an efficient and provocative means through which to reach the general public. The Division of Pictorial Publicity of the Committee on Public Information was formed in 1917, at the onset of the United States involvement in World War I. This division, headed by Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944), was comprised of 279 artists and 33 cartoonists – all volunteered their talents with no remuneration, thus setting an example to the same public their art was intended towards. From James Montgomery Flagg’s (1877-1960) “Uncle Sam” to Howard Chandler Christy’s (1873-1952) “Lady Liberty”, no one has shaped our view of war more than these artists.
Paintings like J.C. Leyendecker’s (1874-1951) “Uncle Sam With Rifle” brought Americans together. “Uncle Sam,” a patriotic symbol for the United States, represented all in a quest for peace and freedom, two principles Americans saw as their rights and worthy of fighting for. This fictional character inspired a sense of duty, as well as strength and loyalty. Also holding a rifle is Gryswold Tyng’s (1883-unknown) “Uncle Sam.” With a determined expression and solid stance he faces Europe as the Statue of Liberty hovers over him like a guardian angel and points him in the right direction.
“Uncle Sam” was not only depicted armed and ready as a modern soldier. He was also shown in Howard Palmer’s “Help Him! Buy More Liberty Bonds” in a more classical pose.
In “Don’t Let Him Get Away With It – Buy Bonds” by William Meade Prince (1893-1951), a German soldier pushes against the Statue of Liberty in an attempt to force her over. These posters engaged even the most unwilling and educated the public as to how they could make a difference and take a stance.
Howard Chandler Christy’s posters for the war effort are among the best known and most emotionally charged. A symbol of feminine beauty and strength, his “Christy Girl” had resulted from an illustration done for Scribner’s during the Spanish-American War. As protagonist of later artwork created for posters, the “Christy Girl” helped to enlist, as in “I Want You for The Navy,” as well as advocate economic support for the government.
Edward Penfield’s (1866-1925) “Revolutionary Soldier Walking with World War Doughboy” depicts two soldiers from two different time periods walking side by side, having fought for the same principles of freedom. A soldier is once again the main subject of Paul Stahr’s (1883-1953) “The Lost Man of War” where we see a World War I sailor flanked by two beautiful women. These women act out their traditional gender roles that were continually challenged when the men were away from home, but that women were supposed to revert to when men returned from the front.
J.F. Kernan’s (1878-1958) World War II soldier in “Back to Life,” just back from the war, soaks in the tub reading Life. Like an eternal mirror, the man reads a magazine with an image of himself in the tub just as we see him on the cover.
For more information, 212-744-5190. Gallery hours are from Monday through Friday, 10 am-5 pm, at 18 East 77th Street.
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