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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Painting: "A Change in Direction" from John Berkey's book "Painted Space" sold for $4,500. Photo courtesy of Society of Illustrators
The British actor Peter Ustinov once said that if Botticelli were alive today he’d be working for Vogue.

Interesting. Given that Botticelli spent most of his career painting for the well-heeled families of 15th century Florence, maybe it’s not such a big leap to say he’d be working for a well-heeled advertising magnate like Vogue today. Botticelli specialized in Madonna’s and would probably do okay by models.

“The only difference between a fine artist and an illustrator,” said well-known 20th century illustrator James Montgomery Flagg, “is that the latter can draw, eats three square meals a day, and can afford to pay for them.”


Ultimately, illustrators grapple with bringing craftsmanship and commerce together. Not always cozy bedfellows.

Packaging and presentation are the lifeblood of advertising and illustrators like Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish and Frederic Remington made it look simple. I suspect that simplicity was a product of hard work.

Magazines, children’s books, posters and historical tales continue to roll off the presses today with graphic illustrations that breathe life into the text. Many people were coaxed to read in the beginning through books with tons of pictures. I was.

Illustrators like the ones mentioned are household names. But who are the soothsayers directing the field now?

On June 21, The Society of Illustrators in New York featured a centennial benefit auction. Some of the lots sold benefited its acquisition fund “It is not so much a tribute to illustration’s distinguished past, as it is a nod to the stellar talents that dominate today’s field,” the press release said.

Posters from movies like Star Wars, King Kong, and Towering Inferno lure viewers into a bloodcurdling world of suspense and whodunit. From Americana, and the movie posters mentioned, to space paintings and midwestern landscapes, John Berkey’s range seems inexhaustible. He offers a “real thing” style of expression in his work.

A Change in Direction from Berkey’s book Painted Space, highlights a spaceship’s exploit into another void. The realistic casein and acrylic on board painting sold for $4,500.

Michael Deas, a graduate of Pratt Institute paints in the traditional fashion and was the illustrator who painted James Dean for the 1996 U.S. Commemorative postage stamp. He has also been recognized for his designs of the Tennessee Williams and F. Scott Fitzgerald stamps.

His oil on panel for the book, The First Partner: Hillary Rodham Clinton, by Joyce Milyon, offered a discerning glance at the first lady. The painting brought $2,500.

Here are some other illustrators featured in the sale.

Auction Highlights

Noel Sickles; “The Spy who Changed His Mind;” for Reader’s Digest; gouache; 1970; 10 inches by 14 inches; $500.

Vincent Di Fate; “Saturn from Iapetus;” study for a mural; acrylic on wood; 12 inches by 24 inches; $900.

David Grove; Art Rooney for the National Football League; gouache, acrylic on gesso board; 28 inches by 22 inches; $1,800.

Bart Forbes; “The River” for Field and Stream; oil on canvas; 14 inches by 25 inches; $3,400.

Dean Morrissey; “Thrown to His Knees” from the book “The Song of Celestine;” oil on board; 1998; 14 inches by 18 inches; $4,000.

C.F. Payne; “George Lucas and Harrison Ford;” for Rolling Stone; mixed media on board; 15 inches by 13 inches; $4,500.

Dean Cornwell; from “Tiger! Tiger!” by Pearl S. Buck; oil on canvas; 1938; 26 inches by 32 inches; $4,500.

James Montgomery Flagg; “Nudes;” oil on canvas; 40 inches by 66 inches; $15,000.

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