Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jessie Willcox Smith: A Child's Garden of Verses

Auction result: $310,700 on February 18, 2010.

JESSIE WILLCOX SMITH (American, 1863-1935)
A Child's Garden of Verses, book illustration, 1905
Mixed media on paperboard
33.5 x 23 in.
Signed lower right
This delightful piece hails from one of Jessie Willcox Smith's most important projects, and the masterfully composed, swirling composition is one of her most intricate, nothing less than a glowing celebration of childhood--and motherhood.

One of America's greatest illustrators, Jessie Willcox Smith attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and studied under Thomas Eakins in Philadelphia, and graduating in 1888. A year later, she found work in the production department of the Ladies' Home Journal, for five years. After that, she continued her art education with classes under Howard Pyle, first at Drexel and then at the Brandywine School.Smith then established her reputation, illustrating stories and articles for Century, Collier's Weekly, Leslie's Weekly, Harper's, McClure's, Scribner's, and the Ladies' Home Journal. Smith was closely associated with the artists Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley, who also studied with Pyle, and the group became known as "The Red Rose Girls." Smith's papers are deposited in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. From 1918 through 1932, Smith illustrated covers exclusively for Good Housekeeping magazine.

As Jessie Willcox Smith biographer S. Michael Schnessel has aptly observed, "Jessie Willcox Smith was the creator of the ideal child. She pictured a child that was without equal in reality -- innocent, unblemished, never naughty, always perfect. Smith's touching, sensitive portraits of children at play won her the hearts of millions of Americans."
This illustration appeared on page 116 of Robert Louis Stevenson's book, A Child's Garden of Verses, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905.

Smith's unparallel talent for figure painting with personality is on full display in this charming group portrait.

From an Important California Collection.

Don sez: From 2006-2010, I catalogued both original Comic and Illustration Art. After Heritage Auctions acquired the Charles Martignette Estate and exponentially ramped-up the scale and frequency of the Illustration Art  Signature Sales, I had to admit, super-savant or not, I couldn't maintain the pace required -- so in late 2010, it was back to Comic Art only. My father, Marvin D. Mangus, was a landscape painter from the Pennsylvania Impressionist tradition, exported to Alaska, and I grew up immersed in the works and lore of well-known Pennsylvania artists and illustrators such as Thomas Eakins and Howard Pyle -- I was thrilled to at this chance drop their names into my description.

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