The Hirschfeld Century: Portrait of an Artist and His Age

David Leopold. Knopf, $40 (336p) ISBN 978-1-101-87497-4
After spending 25 years immersed in the work of Al Hirschfeld (1903–2003), an artist who made some 10,000 drawings during his life, Leopold (Hirschfeld’s Hollywood) has carefully assembled a diverse collection of 366 works spanning the artist’s 82 year career, from the landscapes he painted in North Africa, Bali, and Tahiti to his more recognizable portraits of countless celebrities. This lively biography documents the evolution of Hirschfeld’s distinct line during each decade—in his work for movie studios, Broadway productions, newspapers, and magazines—and contains many interviews with the artist, revealing the amalgamation of influences, including other artists and cultures, that helped to shape his “distinctly American form of drawing.” Though the comprehensive text primarily centers on the professional life of the artist, Leopold also manages to recreate the dizzy exhilaration of Broadway and the film industry in the early 20th century at a time when celebrity culture was just beginning to emerge, and when Modernism was simultaneously being injected into the theatre, music, and Hirschfeld’s work. Best of all are Leopold’s passionate descriptions of Hirschfeld as an entirely nonjudgmental humanist who gave up landscape painting in favor of portraiture to create a uniquely democratic art. “While many people saw the films or the Broadway productions,” writes Leopold, “even more saw Al’s artwork.” This monograph is a diverting study of a towering figure in 20th-century illustration. Illus. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/25/2015
Release date: 07/07/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
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