Golden Age Illustrators

C. E. Chambers, Golden Age Illustrator, painter in studio, 1916

Self-portrait by
Charles Edward Chambers, 1916.

Who were the
Golden Age Illustrators?

During America's Golden Age of Illustration (1880-1920), artists from varied backgrounds were drawn to big cities, principally New York and Chicago, where book and magazine publishing was centered.

They included easel painters, sketch artists, portrait painters, cartoonists, muralists, and ranged from the self-taught to the highly trained, the inexperienced to the old masters of the era.

In the Golden Age the distinction between commercial and fine artist was blurred or non-existent. Books and magazines provided lucrative markets for illustration that attracted and rewarded the most talented, skilled artists.

As a result, illustrators produced a prodigious quantity of art that influenced popular culture and fashions.

The trigger that brought about the Golden Age of Illustration was the introduction around 1880 of photo-mechanical engraving that enabled books and magazines to reproduce artwork with much greater fidelity than in the past.

Prior to 1880, most graphic art in periodicals was reproduced from wood engravings. While wood engraving was a highly-skilled art form in itself, it was an engraver's interpretation of the artist's original work.

By 1900 mass color printing had advanced to the point where artwork could be reproduced on magazine covers at a reasonable cost. Colleges and private schools began to teach illustration along with traditional painting and sculpture classes.

Before photography in books and magazines became commonplace, commercial artists showed the world's wonders to the general public presented in an affordable format. Artists strove for authenticity and accuracy.

In an age when foreign travel was often difficult and dangerous, they ventured to all points of the globe sketching and rendering exotic places, cultures, plants and animals, recording historic events, wars, and natural disasters.

A few artists, highly paid and successful, were like today's movie stars. Their names became familiar across the country as more and more families received home delivery of weekly and monthly periodicals.

Illustrators of the Golden Age inspired a younger generation of aspiring artists. In the 1920s these younger artists had to compete not only with established masters of magazine illustration but with the growing use of photography in magazines.

A growing influence on illustration in the 1920s was advertising. While it provided artists with new venues for their work, it also demanded fresh, contemporary styles that reflected the jazz age and other changes taking place in American culture.

New masters emerged, including the young man who, in time, became most famous of all American illustrators, Norman Rockwell.

On the links below are brief biographical sketches of some (more to come!) of the famous and some not-so-famous personalities of the Golden Age of Illustration, along with examples of their work.

Edwin Austin Abbey Harrison Fisher

Elizabeth Shippen Green Jules Guerin

Howard Pyle Sarah S. Stilwell

Coles Phillips Rose O'Neill

Gertrude Kay Aubrey Beardsley

Charles Dana Gibson Violet Oakley

James Montgomery Flagg Jessie Willcox Smith

Andre Castaigne William James Aylward

Check out the Image Galleries to see the work of other illustrators.

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