Gilded Age Beauties and Beaux: The Art of Edward Penfield

A poster has to play to the public over the variety stage ... to come on with a personality of its own and to remain but a few moments. We are a little tired of the very serious nowadays, and a little frivolity is refreshing. Edward Penfield (1866-1925)
Edward Penfield's impact on contemporary illustrators brought forth a brief but glorious golden age in the American graphic art of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Leading by example, he created a clean, deceptively simple style for his posters, pioneering the divergence of the American Arts and Crafts movement from its sometimes overwrought European strain. The art editor of Harper's for more than ten years, Penfield took note of the strongly defined outlines and flat color masses found in ancient Egyptian art, and the coolly humorous sensibility and lively line of the French graphic artists "” Chéret, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others "” and these influences found their way into his own work. Graceful, witty, and sophisticated, that work captured an age of elegance, if not innocence: his fashionable figures played to a cosmopolitan audience. Penfield's posters for Harper's New Monthly Magazine epitomize the look of his time because he created that look.

Edward Penfield. Posters. Color lithographs. New York, ca. 1890s-1907.
The New York Public Library, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Art & Architecture Collection.

More Posters by Edward Penfield

Collection Guide: Turn-of-the-Century Posters

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