Wednesday, June 24, 2009

B. Altman Advertising Campaign

Creating ads to be used in magazines or newspapers was something which Edward Gorey was rarely commissioned to undertake. There are ads which use Gorey images from books he wrote or illustrated, but he only occasionally created artwork specifically to be used as an advertisement.

In 1974, B. Altman & Co. of New York City launched an extensive print ad campaign and hired Edward Gorey to provide illustrations for these ads. I am not sure how many of these full page ads were created because there are no records apart from the ads themselves in magazines, but I know of nine separate ads that appeared with Gorey art.

Altman's was an old world department store, the likes of which have disappeared today (Altman's closed many years ago). They had permanent departments for everything from the usual clothing, bridal, glass and china to the unexpected; which included a rare book department, fine antiques, imported goods, gourmet foods (before this was the norm in department stores), and fine art. It was a store that prided itself on having unusual, unique items. Their holiday displays were extensive, and Bill and I have two wonderful sets of miniature glass Christmas ornaments that we purchased on a visit in the early 1980's and brought back to Minnesota on the plane!

Due to the rather strange look of the ads, I can only assume that Edward Gorey had little or no input in the actual art direction. He appears to have simply been commissioned to provide spot illustrations which were dropped in alongside the wordy type blocks and photos of goods being promoted. The resulting ads, in my opinion, were not very appealing visually.

The drawings used for the ads, however are lovely vignettes and character studies. I own two pieces of original art from this series. The first is an image of a man decorating pottery. As you can see when you compare the scan of the original artwork (below) with the printed ad (upper left corner in the photo to the right), the image was severely cropped for the ad. The ad promoting decorative planters was also cropped for publication (lower left corner of the photo to the right).

The drawing of the Chinese gentleman is wonderfully rendered, and is far more interesting as drawn than it is in the ad itself. The art director removed the large Chinese vase and table and replaced it with a photo of a teapot, creating an awkward image. On the piece of art, the detail of the painter's toes against the table leg is a naturalistic touch, even if the way he is holding his paint brush is rather odd!

I will show the ninth ad and my other, equally unusual "Gorey/Altman" original in the next posting.

No comments: