Al Hirschfeld

In the 10/21 New Yorker, in “Goings On About Time”, a retrospective on the artist/illustrator Al Hirschfeld:

Al Hirschfeld … began his career in motion pictures, but soon turned to Broadway, and, over the next eight decades, became an icon with his trademark swooping-line drawings. An ardent playgoer (his namesake theatre currently houses “Kinky Boots”), Hirschfeld specialized in drawing show-biz folks. Though he’s often labelled a caricaturist, his work conveys respect as well as capturing the essence of a performer’s virtuosity. He drew (including for this magazine) until his death, in 2003, six months before his hundredth birthday. This week, “The Line King’s Library,” a rich and glamorous history of twentieth-century theatre, opens at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

A self-portrait (in a barber chair):


From Wikipedia:

Albert “Al” Hirschfeld (June 21, 1903 – January 20, 2003) was an American caricaturist best known for his black and white portraits of celebrities and Broadway stars.

… In 1943, Hirschfeld married one of Europe’s most famous actresses, the late Dolly Haas. They were married for more than 50 years, and in addition, they produced a daughter, Nina.

Hirschfeld is known for hiding Nina’s name in most of the drawings he produced after her birth. The name would appear in a sleeve, in a hairdo, or somewhere in the background. As Margo Feiden described it, Hirschfeld engaged in the “harmless insanity,” as he called it, of hiding her name [Nina] at least once in each of his drawings. The number of NINAs concealed is shown by an Arabic numeral to the right of his signature. Generally, if no number is to be found, either NINA appears once or the drawing was executed before she was born. (Almost all of Hirschfeld’s limited edition lithographs have NINAs concealed in them. However, the pursuit is made that much harder because there is no numeral to the right of the signature to guide you.)

It’s almost impossible to pick a few Hirschfeld drawings from the extraordinary number available. Here are two group depictions, the first one (of the Algonquin Round Table) famous:


(At the table, clockwise from left: Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Franklin P. Adams, Edna Ferber, George S. Kaufman, Robert Sherwood. In back from left to right: Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt, Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield and Frank Case.)

And from the New Yorker of 9/14/52, the cast of Mr. Pickwick:


(Nigel Green, Estelle Winwood, Clive Revill, George Howe, Nydia Westman and Sarah Marshall).

Hirschfeld on Hirschfeld, for a Society of Illustrators, Museum of American Illustration, exhibition in April-June 2002:

“I am not at all sure as to whether or not my drawings are even ‘caricatures,’ wrote Al Hirschfeld a half century after he first started drawing. “I would feel more comfortable being classified as a ‘characterist,’ if there were such a word or school. All I know for certain is the ‘capturing of a likeness’ is of secondary importance to me. My primary interest is in producing a drawing capable of surviving the obvious fun of recognition or news value. The capturing of a likeness is of no more importance to me than the humming of a tune! The subject matter of ‘likeness’ serves merely as stimulant or catalyst — a sort of springboard for an unpredictable dive into the unknown. Fortunately, I have never been at a loss for subject matter.”

One Response to “Al Hirschfeld”

  1. Allison Wright Says:

    I do like some of the things you unearth!

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