Edward Penfield cover illustration for The Literary Digest (1909); a beautifully framed antique


Cover: The Literary Digest
​​    Scholar, Knight, and Damsel

    By Edward Penfield
    August 7, 1909 Issue
    Vol. XXXIXX No. 6
    Image Size: H 12.00” x W 9.00”
    Matted & Framed:  H 18.00” x W 15.00”
    Framed Price: $250.00  
    Packaging and shipping approximately $22.00

In the fall of 1892, more than a year after EP joined its art staff, Harper and Brothers commissioned poster artist Eugène Grasset to create a poster-style cover for the Christmas issue of its monthly magazine.

     EP evidently found this new art form compatible with his own emerging style. He sought to capitalize on the emerging “poster” trend by offering to produce the magazine’s next poster cover. This image,  his first, appeared on the cover of Harper’s Monthly Magazine’s April 1893 issue. It had poster characteristics in the sense that its graphics were simple and presented without composition. It featured flat fields of color without blending or shading. And it expressed its message without fanfare or embellishment. What distinguished it from a poster? It attracted the viewer’s gaze, but instead of promoting a product, it insinuated the theme of Harper’s April issue.

     “Penfield’s first poster to be widely published in the series was well received by the public — and by critics alike,” a Penfield biographer noted. “It was unlike anything seen in the land before. It was a poster which forced itself upon one: in design and color it was striking, and yet it was supremely simple throughout...” reported Herbert Stone in The Chap-Book. “The poster was distinctly successful; it was theoretically as well as practically good. The artist had attained his ends by the suppression of details: there were no un-necessary lines.” [Ref: DFP, 321; Johnson, 231; Swann-2016, 5. Sited on https://edwardpenfield.com/catalogue/the-complete-harpers-posters/1893/.]

Well-known and highly regarded after ten years at Harper’s, EP found work creating covers and illustrations for Harper’s competitors, including Collier's, Life, Scribner’sThe Literary Digest, The Saturday Evening Post, Outing Magazine, and other popular publications.

     EP had established his reputation during the 1890s with his poster-design covers. It seems odd therefore that after leaving Harper’s he abandoned the style. The reason for this sudden-seeming change may be that after a decade of nouveau art, the public was ready for something different. By the beginning of the new century, magazine-readers may have wanted a fresh look on their covers.

     Fortunately, EP had the artistic scope to adjust to the changing tastes of his audience. But instead of plowing farther into artistic design, which “the new art” (Art Nouveau) required, EP moved back toward his classical training. He did this by using his superior drafting skills to build simple, pleasing scenes. His mature works offered little in the way of composition, and his coloring was still done without blending or shading, but he added a quality of illustration by picturing episodes rather than impressions.

“Hackney Cart” provides a preview of EP’s post-Harper’s style. Beautifully drawn and without color, it is one of EP’s first illustrations of an item in his carriage collection. We see in its clean lines and crisp movement the artist’s love of horses and carriages.