William Andrew Loomis 1892-1959
May 4, 2015
Visitors to the Museum’s illustration galleries may notice two paintings that seem more “modern” than their companions on the wall. Both were painted in the 1940s, the last years of the Golden Age of American illustration. Created for stories in The Ladies’ Home Journal, they are the work of Andrew Loomis, whose approach to art was distilled in the title of one of his many popular instruction manuals for illustrators: Telling the Story. Besides capturing emotional moments in fiction, each painting also tells the story of how an illustrator’s work was sometimes transformed for its final publication.
Here, Loomis captures the first moments of a couple’s romance in New York City:
She is stylish but working-class, and he is a wealthy playboy. The scene is early in the plot; the conflicts caused by their differing class status will create many complications before they finally enjoy their happy ending. The twilight-blue shadows on the buildings in the background and the soft light in the windows add to the romantic mood. However, neither appeared in the published illustration, which an editor reduced to portray just the heads in a cinematic “clinch.”
In this scene, a house painter is so infatuated with a young woman that he undertakes a portrait of her:
Although she turns out to be—as his friend says—a “born two-timer,” the young man learns that he can paint more than houses. An editor altered this published image, too: a block of text obscures the lively shadows on the back of the easel and canvas. The resulting split-screen effect serves to highlight the woman’s sultry expression and the man’s strong-jawed good looks. As a professional illustrator, Loomis would have been accustomed to such changes, whether called for by a magazine editor in charge of page layout or by an advertising client in search of the perfect depiction of a product.
In the mid-1930s, husband and wife team Bruce Gould and Beatrice Blackmar Gould assumed editorship of the failing Ladies’ Home Journal, which detractors had taken to calling the “Old Ladies’ Journal.” By 1940, the Goulds had revived the magazine’s popularity, giving it the largest circulation of any magazine in the world. Loomis’ mastery of dramatic lighting, current fashion and make-up, and passionate encounters made him an ideal illustrator for Ladies’ Home Journal fiction.
The characters in both paintings epitomize the standards of masculine and feminine beauty purveyed by illustrated magazines’ main competition: Hollywood movies. Couples such as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall frequently appeared on posters advertising the era’s most popular films, often looking raptly adoring or darkly mysterious. Loomis felt that illustration should be of the moment and recommended that “Every artist should subscribe to the fashion magazines…(through them) you are familiarizing yourself with the very important elements of style which mark the era of which your art must be a part.”
Loomis remains influential as an author of instructional books on illustration, in which he—more than a generation removed from Howard Pyle’s life and work—recommended to his own students the study of Pyle’s illustrations and teaching methods. “Time cannot efface those basic truths any more than time can efface the laws of nature,” Loomis said about Pyle’s approach to the art of illustration.
Mary F. Holahan
Curator of Illustration/Curator of Outlooks Exhibition Series