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Roger Duvoisin Mid-Century Illustrator Part 1

January 18, 2013

Fishinkblog 5436 Roger Duvoisin 16a

There was a small chain of events that prompted me to write today’s blog. Firstly I started drawing geese (for no reason in particular) but I guess just enjoying creating their twisting shapes and their smooth curving lines.

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The very next day, I came across three copies of ‘The Happy Lion’ books,whilst on my travels. Of course when I saw the illustrations, I realised that I needed to know more about the fantastic work of Roger Duvoisin. Through my research, I came across his drawings of Petunia (a goose) and soon it all seemed to fit into place ! So here we are.

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But before we get too excited about the work, let’s introduce you to Roger.

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Roger Duvoisin was born in Switzerland, August 28th, 1904 into a family with a strong orientation towards the arts. His father was an architect and his godmother was a famous enamel painter. While Duvoisin showed early interest in the arts, there was some energetic familial discussion as to his education.

Roger explains ‘Like most children, I loved to draw. Galloping horses were my favorite subject. But I labored in vain trying to draw the hoofs; they always looked like oversized shoes. Fortunately an uncle of mine had a special talent for drawing horses and I looked forward to his visit with great expectation as I always made him fill sheets of paper with magnificent horses, prancing on their elegant hoofs. Trees were also my despair. They have so many leaves that I lost hope of drawing them all. I was sad when I looked at my trees whose leaves hung from the branches like Christmas tree ornaments. But I got help there too. My godmother, who was a well-known painter of enamels, said she knew a trick that would help me and she showed it to me. After that my trees were really not as bad.’

Roger did go on to master illustrating trees as you can see below ‘Sun Up’ in 1949.

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Again in 1950 with ‘Hi Mister Robin’

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and also in the 1956 book ‘ The House of Four Seasons’.

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Graduating from art school Roger Duvoisin first turned his hand to designing stage scenery, theatre sets and posters for adverts.

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Next he became the manager of a French pottery plant. It was in this time, in 1925, that he married Louise Fatio. He was recruited into designing textiles which took him to Paris. In 1927, he was recruited by an American textile firm in New York to come and work for them. He made a commitment to relocate for a minimum of four years and he and Fatio moved to New York.

The company he worked for went bankrupt in 1931, and he found himself, at the height of the Great Depression with a wife and two young sons, in a foreign land, and with no job. However, he loved living in America and had no desire to return to Europe (he became a citizen in 1938). Looking around for what to do next, he decided to publish a book that he had written and illustrated for his son. ‘A Little Boy Was Drawing’ was published in 1932. While his first effort did not make much of an impact, he was headed in the right direction. His next book, Donkey, Donkey (1933) was a big hit and has been in print ever since. With the success of Donkey, Donkey, Duvoisin was off and running.

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Here’s a few other covers from the 1940’s to 1960’s.

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He also worked for the New Yorker magazine doing a number of covers for them in the forties and fifties.

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Duvoisin was a big collaborator. While he wrote plenty of his own books, he also had long productive relationships with other authors. The Happy Lion series  was a collaboration with his wife Louise Fatio as the author , eleven books in the series of sixteen, they worked on together. Other authors with whom he worked were Alvin R. Tresselt, (nineteen books), Mary Calhoun (five books), Charlotte Zolotow (four books), Kathleen Morrow Elliott (three books), and Adelaide Holl (three books). As Duvoisin told Lee Bennett Hopkins, “There are problems and great pleasures in collaborating. Louise has a sensitive eye. Her criticism is very valuable but sometimes difficult to accept, especially when she tells me that I should do particular illustrations over again. She is usually right, though!”

Duvoisin’s work has a number of characteristics. One theme is the role that animal protagonists play in many if not most of Duvoisin’s work. He loved animals and in 1939 he purchased a farm in New Jersey from whence he could work in New York but spend as much time as he wanted close to nature and animals. Petunia (the goose), Veronica (the hippo), and the Happy Lion are three of the animal characters for which he is most famous but there are also ducks, crocodiles (as in Crocus the . . .), whales, roosters and others. He often would write a story about an animal and then find that he had another story and then another to tell until he had fallen accidentally into a series. Duvoisin had a lot of happy accidents.

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Veronica the Hippo.

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His work equally looks beautiful in black and white as it does in colour.

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Roger had a great control of line and colour, for instance just look at his palette here. Superb !

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More  about Mr Roger Duvoisin and his incredible work in a couple of days. Many thanks to ‘ Through the Magic Door ‘ for their biographical details, helping to make this blog posting possible.

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32 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2013 12:24 pm

    When I was at college in the late 70’s work from this period was rather dismissed, almost as if nothing decent had been done since the bauhaus- so nice to see young illustrators and designers championing it, it was almost a guilty pleasure looking at and being influenced by this sort of stuff when I was studying! The Festival of Britain was seen as just some sort of parochial jokey sideshow and the Festival Hall was slowly declining and rather ignored…

    • January 18, 2013 1:07 pm

      I would love to have been around when work like this could be seen everywhere but equally I relish in the fact, that through the internet, we can pick up on and view the work of these stylish illustrators so easily. I wonder if you are one of these people who have a book inside, as I feel your comments and contributions are both informative and enlightening. Thanks for sharing

      • January 18, 2013 10:25 pm

        Way easier to see it now than it was to see it then! The 50s and 60s were a pretty drab time and people just didn’t have the disposable cash to have lots of stuff- especially American stuff! Love your blog.

      • January 18, 2013 10:51 pm

        I guess Americana wasn’t available in the UK at all in the 60’s. I don’t know if you ever read http://www.billbryson.co.uk/books_thunderbolt.html The Thunderbolt Kid but it paints a great image of the times.
        So glad the living in 2013 is a brighter place.. even when it’s covered in snow ! Thanks for the comments

  2. January 18, 2013 1:34 pm

    Oh I had a Petunia book ! I’d forgotten all about it but seeing these pix brought it all back ! I must see if I can find it …. drat you and your engrossing blog posts, now I’ll waste hours looking ! Sxx

    • January 18, 2013 2:23 pm

      Lol thats the biggest influence on your day that I’ll have. Glad to move you from your comfy chair to searching the bookshelves, you never know what you’ll find. Do let us know. Happy searching snow girl x

  3. January 18, 2013 5:17 pm

    The illustrations are so wonderful, almost poetic. It took me back to my childhood when we had stories of such beautiful animals. Petunia is the best !

    • January 18, 2013 5:24 pm

      How lovely to be transported back to your childhood by images on a blog lol Hope it was a good trip down memory lane for you. Thanks for letting me know. More to come.

  4. January 19, 2013 8:06 pm

    Roger Duvoisin had a great style. I did a post on him awhile back, if you’d like to view it go to: http://theartofchildrenspicturebooks.blogspot.com/2011/05/happy-lions-vacation.html

    • January 20, 2013 11:58 pm

      Thanks Jil, his work is amazing. Thanks for the pointer.

  5. January 21, 2013 12:59 pm

    So many great posts but these are fantastic. It’s amazing how this style was so taken for granted at one time and dismissed (as 54paintings says). I remember having my brothers’ storybooks passed on from the 60s in the late 70s and and loved these stylised, characterful images as I did the original 50s Disney 101 Dalmations animation. And they all look so vibrant now they’re appreciated and appearing again: a sort of zest for life movement…

    • January 21, 2013 1:08 pm

      Hi Whistles, Thanks for your comment. I find it strange now to think how these beautiful works could have been so overlooked at the time and it got me wondering whether our appreciation for them has now grown or is it merely because we now can celebrate them en mass that they are easier to see and develop a fondness for ? I liked your blog too, I’m a big fan of Susan Cooper and you may also like this post from my friend’s blog too.
      http://sarahmorpeth.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/books-to-read-in-wintertime/

      Thanks again for your thoughts.

  6. Danielle Duvoisin permalink
    December 6, 2013 12:43 am

    Roger Duvoisin was my beloved grandfather and it’s nice to see such a thorough post about his work. Well done. I am fortunate to have many of his original works, which I cherish and which my children, who unfortunately never knew him, cherish, too. He was as wonderful as his drawings.

    • December 6, 2013 9:29 am

      Hi Danielle, how lovely of you to leave such a comment. If there’s any work of Roger’s that you might be able to photograph and share with us, that we might not have seen, I’d love to put it in a post. craig @fishink.co.uk Thanks for stopping by : )

    • Muir Hewitt permalink
      September 25, 2016 8:19 am

      Hello Danielle Duvoisin and Anne Duvoisin Fisher on behalf of many kindred spirits on my Facebook group The Golden Age Of Illustration I’d like to say how much I/we love your Grandfather’s wonderful charming illustrations for Wobble the Witch Cat which I posted about just yesterday! I’m delighted to have encountered you online last year I had the honour of meeting Gina the daughter of the late Little Golden Books illustrator Gordon Laite! Love and Best Wishes from Muir Hewitt

  7. Anne Duvoisin Fisher permalink
    January 2, 2014 5:48 pm

    I am Roger Duvoisin’s granddaughter, Anne Duvoisin Fisher. It is gratifying to see such tribute paid to him. I have a number of his first editions as well as a number of his original New Yorker covers and cartoons. I am the model in a number of his books (the little girl with two braids).

    • January 2, 2014 8:59 pm

      Hi Anne, how lovely of you to get in touch, I’ve also heard from Danielle too another of Roger’s grandchildren, perhaps a sister or cousin of yours ? If you have any images of further information that I could put into another blog post about your grandfather, then I’d love to put something together. You can contact me further here craig@fishink.co.uk. You’re so lucky to appear in his books too, a wonderful illustrative memory for you.

  8. October 27, 2015 3:59 am

    Ei have a version of the Christmas Whale that is unlike any version i can find. It is green cloth cover with red graphics and on the page with the reindeers in bed with the flu on the right panel the first word is “curse” instead of “All” like in the other books. Do i have a misprint of this book or a very early version…cant find anything on line to help me identify this book!

    Thank you

    • October 27, 2015 5:47 pm

      Sorry Debbi I wouldn’t know but it sounds like it could well be of value as it’s such an unusual print. You’d be best to ask a vintage bookseller who specialises in children’s books. Do let us know when you find out anymore.. how exciting ! Any Photos ?

  9. November 22, 2015 6:16 am

    I would love to post photos, but it would not let me post here! Any thoughts?

    • November 22, 2015 4:46 pm

      Hi Anne The best way to send me information, images or text is through my email address craig@fishink.co.uk. This will allow you to add photos. Hope that is helpful and to hear from you soon Thank you

  10. Tricia permalink
    August 25, 2016 1:11 pm

    I appreciate this information. I can’t get enough of his illustrations! Do you know if and where one can go to see his work ?

    • August 28, 2016 4:20 pm

      Sadly I don’t know of any exhibitions of his work at the moment. Plenty of his books available on Ebay. Thanks for our comment Tricia

    • Anne Duvoisin Fisher permalink
      August 28, 2016 8:02 pm

      I am one of his three granddaughters. There is a wing dedicated to his work at Rutger’s Zimmerli Art Muaseum in New Brunswick, NJ. How’s books continue to be published abnd sold. They are also in most elementary school libraries. He did numerous New Yorker covers and spots. Copies can be purchased from the New Yorker. I and my siblings and cousins own many of the original covers and other works. He also did UNICEF Christmas cards each year. I recently found an original adult book he illustrated written by a New Yorker travel correspondent Calle “The Man Whi Could Grow Hair.” The book is pretty bad but the illustrations are great.
      Anne Duvoisin Fisher

      • August 29, 2016 7:58 am

        Thanks Anne for bringing us all up to date. Next time I’m in NJ, I will definitely have to pay a visit. Hope all is well with you. Thanks Craig

      • Debbi Evans permalink
        August 29, 2016 1:01 pm

        Good morning! I believe I own the original proof of The Christmas Whale. I do not know how to go about finding out for sure and I would like to have the book appraised. Any Ideas?
        The cover is green with red lettering. Some of the story text is different and the text goes to the edge of the page. It is in fantastic condition.

    • Anne Duvoisin Fisher permalink
      August 28, 2016 8:05 pm

      The Roger Duvoisin Gallery ar the Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick, NJ at Rutgers University

  11. shana cheung permalink
    November 17, 2017 5:21 am

    Do you know what kinds of painting that Duvoisin use? Poster colour or acrylic mixed with ink? Do you have any ref that can share how did he draw.
    Pls reply me in email as i cannot checking your site as once.

    • Anne Fisher permalink
      November 20, 2017 7:30 pm

      Grandpere used water colors and collage paper.

      Anne Duvoisin Fisher
      [LOGO #3.png]
      Email: aduvoisin@nclandlawyer.com
      Boone Office: 828.295.7469
      Toll Free 800.452.9633
      Raleigh Office Rocky Mount Office
      Local 919.781.1107 Local 252.443.2111
      Fax 919.781.8048 Fax 252.443.9429
      3110 Edwards Mill Rd. 2317 Sunset Ave.
      Suite 210 P.O. Box 7008
      Raleigh, NC 27612 Rocky Mount, NC 27804

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