Now on view in the Brock J. Vinton Galleries

October 28, 2015

Six works of art on the west wall of the Brock J. Vinton Galleries, including a new acquisition, all illustrate different subjects but each one shows the importance of women’s hats at the turn of the 20th century. Women were rarely without a hat – not just out of doors but during social calls and solitary nature excursions – one of the works is actually a satire on women’s foibles in the hat-buying realm!

Cover for St. Nicholas by Charles Relyea

Cover for St. Nicholas, February 1907. Charles Relyea (1863-1932). Gouache and graphite on illustration board. Acquisition Fund, 2015.

Includes New Acquisition:

This cover for St. Nicholas, the most popular American children’s magazine of the early 20th century, features a young man and woman in winter furs. Charles Relyea places us as if we’re seeing this serious couple in profile glide by. The red and white of the girl’s coat, cuff, and hat make her the center of attention against a primarily white, gray, and black palette. Our eyes next move to the graceful, feathery red tassels blowing in the wind, a contrast to the snow-capped geometric brick pillars and repeated uprights of the fence. The whip makes sure we don’t miss this section, as it cuts up to and through that part. Finials on the sleigh mirror the iron-work of the fence posts. The sleigh’s curving front, its two almost circular elements, and the armrest balance the more blocky section of the lower right. Outstretched reins follow the curve of the fence as it recedes into the distance, adding a sense of deep space. The whole image, with just a suggestion of the horse (whose tail matches the couple’s furs), is one of a dignified ride rather than a dash through the snow.

On the sleigh in the lower right is the symbol of the St. Nicholas League, the club comprised of winners of the magazine’s essay and art contests. The sleigh riders—well-dressed and comfortably protected from the chill—look like the serious readers who might been members of the League.

A native of Albany NY, studied with Thomas Eakins @ PAFA, and in Paris. He lived in New Rochelle, New York, where many illustrators were part of the artists’ colony there. On October 6, 1914, the New York Times noted that as a result of a golfing accident, Relyea lost his right eye. Within a year, he was back at work. With the 1920s, he adapted to the times, creating calendar illustrations and advertising art in the decade’s thriving economy.

Mary F. Holahan
Curator of Illustration/Curator of Outlooks Exhibition Series

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