Roger Duvoisin Mid-Century Illustrator Part 1
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.
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.
But before we get too excited about the work, let’s introduce you to Roger.
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.
Again in 1950 with ‘Hi Mister Robin’
and also in the 1956 book ‘ The House of Four Seasons’.
Graduating from art school Roger Duvoisin first turned his hand to designing stage scenery, theatre sets and posters for adverts.
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.
Here’s a few other covers from the 1940’s to 1960’s.
He also worked for the New Yorker magazine doing a number of covers for them in the forties and fifties.
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.
Veronica the Hippo.
His work equally looks beautiful in black and white as it does in colour.
Roger had a great control of line and colour, for instance just look at his palette here. Superb !
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.