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.

1 comment:

Will said...

Dear Irwin,

Thank you for your kind and encouraging words on the Trust's current digitizing efforts. It is a daunting task all around but an exciting one, and the Instagram account has already led to some meaningful conversations with other serious Gorey collectors and enthusiasts, which has been a great surprise.

And thank you for your incredible deep read into the Doubtful Guest post. Our plan has been to create a digital archive of both print-ready images for publishers and - crucially - images for scholars and other researchers that maintain the best possible visual fidelity to the actual physical art objects. Our hope is that that will allow for new observations and interpretations of Gorey's creative process, which your post today couldn't have made more elegantly or insightfully. I had personally been focused almost entirely on the changes to the DG figure, but your comments on - and demonstration of - how much the revised cropping reflects the theme of the work as a whole tells a vastly more interesting story.

Looking forward to more conversations soon,

Will Baker (for the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust)