PIRATES, PETTICOATS AND PUFFY SLEEVES
What imagery is more dynamic than a hero in a flowing linen shirt, crossing swords with a black-clad villain? Stories of men in tights and ladies in torn bodices have long provided artists with excellent opportunities for bravura work.
What better way to showcase the illustrator’s craft than by the skillful depiction of the abundant drapery and rich detail of historical costume? A hallmark of the genre is a dramatic composition, often by means of contrapuntal gesture, clearly seen in A.B Wenzell’s wrestling pirates in “The Danger Man.” Even in a moment of stasis as in Saul Tepper’s “A Captured Knight” the pictorial tension expresses the melee before the capture and the daring escape that will no doubt follow.
N.C. Wyeth may have depicted Robert Louis Stevenson works most famously (The Black Arrow), but the Scotsman’s tales provided period fodder for many artists including George Varian (Treasure Island). As for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, interpretations abound, from Howard Chandler Christy’s rendition of the troubled Dane in 1937 to Jean Leon Huens’s puffy-sleeved version in the late 1970s.
And let us not forget the damsels in their finery. Former pulp artist Peter Stevens portrays a fierce pirate and a frightened blond in Technicolor splendor for American Weekly in the 1950s, while Elaine Duillo brings tenderness to a medieval love scene for a Dell romance novel.
Glistening steel, heaving hearts, and stolen booty–the high drama expressed by gifted illustrators can still move us—reminding us of more swashbuckling times.