This past Monday, Bill (in red) and I (in green) went to Boston to view the Elegant Enigmas show at the Boston Atheneum. If your Gorey collecting bug is feeling a bit listless, this show is a sure fire cure for the collecting doldrums. Photography was not allowed in the galleries, so the photos show us outside the building.
Entering the exhibition space, we were greeted by several beautifully executed self portraits of Edward Gorey. At first glance, the show seems quite unassuming, being presented in just two rooms. We managed to spend well over an hour and a half studying the original artwork from Mr. Gorey's published books. The art included in the show concentrates on primary books published before 1980, but examples of later titles are included. Organized loosely by publication date, each frame showcases two or more pages from a book. There are several plexi cases with three dimensional objects, unframed artwork, sketches and notebooks.
Pieces like the full color dust jacket design painted for The Broken Spoke stand out because of its size and beautiful colors, but it is the densely rendered black and white drawings which rivet you to the spot in awe and amazement. More than one gallery viewer was overheard to ask, " Is this an etching?" Because the work is so finely detailed, it is almost impossible to believe it is the work drawn by hand.
There are many pieces showing the process Mr. Gorey went through to complete a work of art. It is fascinating to see corrections on the drawings, in some cases artwork is cut in half and a new upper portion is glued to the lower half. Pieces of paper are pasted on top of finished drawings with new lettering or a single word is changed. Viewing the original art gives insight into the thought process involved, which is an aspect unique to illustration art since the art itself is not the final destination, but part of the journey.
Rarely does one see the progression of Mr. Gorey's signature drawing style so clearly displayed. It was unfortunate that there was nothing on display from The Beastly Baby, since this represents some of his earliest work and is very loosely drawn in contrast to the firmer style of his other works. Pieces from The Unstrung Harp and The Listing Attic prepare the way for the masterpiece drawings from The West Wing.
One of the great surprises of the show is a small plexi display case which has just recently been put on display and is not actually part of the exhibition. In this display (located in a room that one stumbles across when heading to the restrooms) are three recent acquisitions by the Atheneum for their permanent collection. They include a hard cover copy of The Black Doll, a stamped sheet of Figbash figures dancing across the page and signed by Mr. Gorey, and the jaw dropping The Sopping Thursday limited edition copy #C/26. This copy includes a piece of original art created especially for this edition (see photo to the right) which features a cat standing in the rain balancing an umbrella on its paw. The announcement card for this title is included in the display which states that the 26 lettered copies were originally sold by Gotham Book Mart for $75.00 each! Oh, to have a time machine!!