Saturday, November 23, 2019

Where is the Dragon?

For his entire career, Edward Gorey was an artist for hire who could, and often did, illustrate anything he was commissioned to undertake. If an author was fortunate enough to secure Mr. Gorey's professional services, the artistic and financial rewards could be considerable. Mr. Gorey was not however, the type of collaborator who would chat for hours with a client, if at all. Even so, authors would occasionally make special requests.
Such was the case with Florence Parry Heide with regard to the back cover image for Treehorn's Treasure (1981 Holiday House , New York). Throughout the book, the illustrations picture Treehorn's imaginings as full page thought bubbles. The original artwork intended for the back cover shows an elaborately rendered dragon floating in one of these bubbles while Treehorn himself blows a gum bubble. The printed version of the drawing shows only Treehorn blowing his gum bubble. Where did the dragon go? To unravel the mystery of the disappearing dragon, we turn to Malcolm Whyte, the collector who owns the original artwork.
Malcolm Whyte has collected and written about the works of Edward Gorey for many years and he recently shared his research into the backstory of this wonderful drawing. To unravel the "now you see it, now you don't" aspect of the artwork, Mr. Whyte was put in contact with Florence Parry Heide's children David and Judy by a mutual friend. Judy related that upon viewing the back cover illustration her mother "loathed" it as being too un-Gorey-like and too comical. Feeling strongly about this even though she knew "Edward Goery couldn't stand having people mess with his work or tell him what to do", Mrs. Heide contacted Mr. Gorey and requested the dragon be removed. After the book's publication, the original illustration was gifted to the author by Mr. Gorey in what might be considered a personal comment on her interference. The drawing was later gifted to Andreas Brown from whom it was acquired by Mr. Whyte as a gift for his wife. The Whyte's continue to appreciate and admire the drawing as the exceptional piece of art that it is.

How did this elaborate drawing get whittled down to the spare image adorning the back cover of the book? For such drastic changes to an image, Edward Gorey would typically either redraw the entire piece, or glue pieces of paper over the parts to be removed and redraw on the art itself. Today the image would be altered in a matter of minutes by erasing the dragon on a computer, but in 1971 the process would have been done by hand as a cut and paste using a stat or film. On the original artwork, there are a series of four xeroxed border panels affixed to the surface of the drawing, indicating the new placement of the horizontal decorative border row on the wall. Were the xeroxes made and affixed by Edward Gorey himself? This is one mystery that may never be solved.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Doubtful Guest, Original Artwork From The Edward Gorey Trust

Continuing the daunting task of cataloging the Edward Gorey archive, the Edward Gorey Trust has been regularly posting images of rare original artwork on Instagram. The pieces being shown range from grade school drawings dating from the 1930's - Master Edward's mother appears to have saved much of his early artistic efforts - to pieces from the 1990's. This masterful on-line exhibition gives us a glimpse at some of the treasures that have long been buried within the archive.

A recent post features a drawing from Edward Gorey's third published book, The Doubtful Guest (1957 Doubleday & Company). Arguably one of Mr. Gorey's most beloved publications, the drawing is captioned:

It would carry off objects of which it was fond,
And protect them by dropping them into a pond.

Illustrators have many tricks they employ to quickly make changes to a piece of artwork so they do not need to redraw the entire image. For this Doubtful Guest drawing, multiple changes occurred within the image that are not seen in the printed version. After 62 years, the changes become more obvious as the paper tones slightly, revealing many white gouache (opaque watercolor) corrections.

Crop marks placed by the artist in the four corners of the drawing indicate to the printer the final size and shape of the printed image. For this drawing, the crop marks on all four corners have been adjusted larger than originally indicated. The adjusted cropping changes the feel of the image in the same way that a movie camera can be pulled back to show more of the scene.

The upper image shows the original cropping, while the lower image shows the final cropping. The drawing itself has not changed in any way and the difference the cropping makes is subtle, but significant. The viewer is part of the action in the upper drawing, empathizing with the man in the fur coat. In the final version, the viewer becomes one of the people in the distance, a voyeur looking at the scene but helpless to interact. This, of course fits the tone of the book more accurately, with the family under siege from the benign creature.
The scale of the Doubtful Guest has also been significantly reduced. The gouache shows that Edward Gorey had already inked in an outline for the creature - if the DG were merely drawn in pencil, the lines would simply be erased. This clearly shows how the drawing was constructed. The outline of DG was finalized, then Mr. Gorey went on to draw in and finish the figures and background. At this point, he realized that the scale of the DG was too large and reduced his scale to that of a child in relation to the gentleman. If the DG had been completely inked in, there would be masses of white paint, or a paper cutout would need to have been glued onto the surface to block out the ink. It is interesting to note that the eerie floating quality of the watch is a consequence of the scale change of the DG. The watch was obviously already drawn in because it is scaled and positioned to match the original outline, dropping from its hand/paw/wing rather than floating out in front if the DG.

Just like a good murder mystery, this piece of artwork has many clues indicating how it was done and why it happened the way it did! To view more treasures from the Edward Gorey archive, follow EdwardGoreyTrust on Instagram.