Collecting illustration art is to deal in memories and nostalgia. So many of these images either build up the back drop of childhood or invokes the spirit of a bygone era. This style of art has recently piqued interest on the art market and is experiencing a boom. Value is raising and collectors are seeking it out.
Decades before, illustration art was considered low value. Interest sparked in the early 2000s. Joseph Christian Leyendecker, whose work had been generally selling in the hundreds, sold at a Christie’s auction for over $200,000 in 2004. In the 1970s, pin-up art that once appeared in calendars and advertisements was priced below one-hundred dollars. Now they go to market in the hundred-thousands. Collectors are searching for more pieces and both galleries and auction houses are including more of these works.
The most sought after works are from roughly 1890 – 1940, the Golden Age of Illustration. During this time, periodicals rose in popularity and advancements in technology allowed illustration to flourish. Jobs for illustrators were readily available and they enjoyed a celebrity status. They and their art represented wit and class. These were not merely images that appeared in books or magazines, but widely accessibly masterpieces.
Americana scenes appeals to the widest audience and is the highest valued. However, there is much more to explore. Like any other art form, illustration cannot be generalized. Norman Rockwell is usually among the first American illustrators to spring to mind, but there are other exciting artists to discover.
Jessie Wilcox Smith is similar to the wholesome works of Rockwell. Smith is best known for her portrayals of children. Parents commissioned her to draw their own children because she so elegantly captured their personality and spirit. Her work appeared as the covers for Good Housekeeping from 1918 – 1932. These illustrations influenced children’s stories, nurseries, schools, and other such spaces.
For collectors interested in one of Rockwell’s inspirations, J. C. Leyendecker was among the first major artists to draw covers for Saturday Evening Post. During his career, he made over four-hundred magazine covers. Leyendecker was also known for his advertisements. He created one of the sex symbols of the 1900s in the Arrow Collar Man. While he was only a fictional character created for the sole purpose of selling detachable shirt collars, he received 17,000 love letters a day.
Illustration art is not limited to everyday life in urban or suburban America. The illustrations of N.C. Wyeth invoke the spirit of adventure. His career began with sketches he drew while assisting with herding cattle and carrying mail in the West. In 1907, Outing Magazine and other publications featured his depictions of cowboys, Native Americans, and the frontier. He became widely known for his book covers for action/adventure stories. His illustrations can still be found on some editions of novels such as Treasure Island or Last of the Mohicans. These images capture the thrill and drama of these stories.
Illustration can also push limits and provide a challenge for artists. Maxfield Frederick Parrish’s works are fanciful and dreamlike. Architecture and the revival of ancient art techniques were among Parrish’s passions. His works are bold in color and are utterly captivating. The richness of color was achieved by applying and reapplying varnish and glazes. This birthed the vibrant “Parrish blue” which became his signature. This color adds to the surreal and serene environments that he created.
Collecting illustration art is a rewarding experience. Not only are these pieces valued highly, they hold a special place in our culture and shared histories.
Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in the top illustration artists and other paintings from 19th-21st century. If you would like guidance on collecting illustration art, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.