The great illustrators of the 20th century captured American history unlike any artist before, and the famed Saturday Evening Post carried their images to millions of Americans, into their hearts and homes. At M.S. Rau Antiques, we are exploring the nation’s rich story as told by six decades of original Post illustrations in our current exhibition, America, Illustrated. Featuring original Post covers by Norman Rockwell and his contemporaries, including J.C. Leyendecker, Stevan Dohanos, Maxfield Parrish, John Philip Falter, and more, the exhibition offers a nostalgic look into a bygone age.
Beginning in the 1900s, the comprehensive exhibition spans nearly the entire lifespan of the Saturday Evening Post, which published weekly from 1897 until 1963. This iconic American magazine was the first to reach a mass audience – over six million subscribers at its peak, not to mention rack sales – and stands as one of the most widespread and influential middle-class magazines in American history.
The iconic Post cover illustrations present compelling scenes of everyday life the come together to forge a portrait of a country and its people, shaped by period of peace and war, moments of immense happiness and despair, and of great societal change.
The exhibition opens at the dawn of a new century. The 1900s would truly be remembered as the decade that invented the future. An exciting time in technology, culture, and the arts, American culture found itself at a crossroads – awakening to change with echoes of the past still visible. J.C. Leyendecker’s Easter from 1906, presenting a high-hatted gentleman and his impeccably dressed female companion, is emblematic of the Victorian ideals still held by the most affluent in society at the turn of the century – ideals which would soon become obsolete.
Much of the exhibition is colored by the two World Wars, which came to dominate cultural narrative of their respective eras. During the country’s darkest times, the Saturday Evening Post’s poignant wartime covers gave cause to keep faith in humankind and support the American troops. Norman Rockwell’s Willie Gillis is one of the most iconic characters from the Post’s wartime illustrations. Rockwell uses his well-honed talent for storytelling to give the war a human face through his character, Willie, who, even in wartime, lends humor to the most difficult of subjects. Through his wartime works, Rockwell successfully communicated a strong moral compass for the nation.
Along the way, these original illustrations give face to some of the most significant advancements of American history, from women’s rights to the automobile and the radio. They also give a glimpse into our most heartwarming times, including moments of childhood wonder and holiday fun. Coming to a close in the 1950s with idealized images of suburbia and the American Dream, this exhibition offers a truly nostalgic and heartwarming vision of one generation’s lived experience.
The exhibition runs through January 5 at M.S. Rau Antiques’ French Quarter Gallery. Click here for more information about the works in this family-friendly, nostalgic exhibition that is perfect for the holiday season.