Al Hirschfeld: Illustrator of an Era

Feast for the Eyes: Art Inspired by Food and Dining
Nassau County Museum of Art
Through November 6, 2016

By Debbie Wells, Artful Circle

img_1975Al Hirschfeld (1903 – 2003) was an American illustrator best known for his portraits of movie and television actors, Broadway stars and other celebrities. His drawings mostly consisted of pure line in black ink, into which Hirschfeld dipped not a pen, but a genuine crow’s quill. He also worked in gray washes and later with color.

Hirschfeld possessed an uncanny ability to reveal the unique personality of his subjects with just a few strokes. He not only captured the individual’s qualities, but also created exaggerated character with witty details. Notice the chef cracking an egg while losing his eyeglasses in the bowl. His swirly eye indicates that he might have needed those glasses! In contrast, observe Hirschfeld’s portrayal of Audrey Hepburn’s incredibly chic appearance while casually holding her snack of pastry and coffee.

With his characteristic style and whimsy, Hirschfeld portrays comedy greats, WC Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Groucho Marx, enjoying a meal of sausages, cake, and cidsc_0022gars. Another illustrates a montage-like array of female stars with dramatic expressions, all cooking in the kitchen. Hirschfeld also evokes the life and times of the big-business lunch scene of yesterday’s New York City with a humorous twist featuring a scoreboard organizing the time and place of the three-martini lunch schedule for salesmen and their clients in restaurants famed during the “Mad-Men” era.

Al Hirschfeld was a master of celebrity caricature, but also was able to glorify the food experience with a calligraphic line – whether it was of the rich and famous in clubs and restaurants, artists in Greenwich Village, or chefs at work.

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