Judging a Book by Its Cover

Our January 23, 2014, 20th Century Illustration sale boasts an abundance of original book-cover art, many examples of which became iconic images of the literary works they graced and, in some cases, defined an era.

In keeping with the book’s second-person voice, the main character of Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City is never named and his face is not shown on the famous dust jacket.

Marc Tauss’s multimedia work created in 1984 for Jay McInerney’s first published novel, Bright Lights, Big City, is the quintessential tale of New York City’s hedonistic, drug- and money-addicted twenty-somethings of the 1980s. McInerney called Tauss’s cover, showing the main character paused in anticipation of the evening before the neon sign of The Odeon and glimmering Twin Towers “incredibly evocative and haunting . . . absolutely emblematic of the book.” The first edition was released as a paperback via the groundbreaking Vintage Books format and the image remained on the cover for 25 years.

Additional iconic cover art of the 1980s by master of graphic images, Fred Marcellino, is on offer. Four primary-colored notebooks set at an angle remain a visual link to the 1984 reissue of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, as does the surreal window on the front of T. Coraghessan Boyle’s novel World’s End, 1987. Swann sold the first cover art by Marcellino at auction in the January 2013’s 20th Century Illustration Art sale for $6,720–a mixed media composition for Thomas Pynchon’s Slow Learner, 1984.

A trio of covers by Max Ginsburg are featured: A Separate Peace, Beyond the Cellar Door and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

There are three oil paintings by Max Ginsburg for classic coming-of-age novels. While his name may not be immediately recognizable, these works certainly are. John Knowles’s emotionally charged story of private school boys on the eve of World War II, A Separate Peace, dominated high school reading lists for decades. And, no cover captured its readers as Ginsburg’s for Bantam Books in 1982–nearly every Generation X-er (and those born later) remembers its ghostly, autumnal image. Another of the artist’s works helped visually define the Newbery Medal Award winning Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by young adult literature guru Mildred D. Taylor. Her story about prejudice in Depression-era Mississippi is boldly depicted by Ginsburg who “tried to illustrate the courage and vulnerability of these heroic children” as they huddle together on their porch, braving a blaze set on their property.

Edward Gorey’s ink and watercolor dust jacket design for The Spector From the Magician’s Museum by John Bellairs and Brad Strickland, 1998.

2014 will be a very Edward Gorey-centric year for Swann beginning with several of his gothic and witty dust jacket designs for the mystery novels of John Bellairs and Brad Strickland from the 1990s. Most are accompanied by the ink layout of the cover and spine lettering which he also drew. Keep an eye out for our May 7, 2014 auction of Art, Press & Illustrated Books for more Gorey.

B. Cory Kilvert’s mixed-media on paper captures the fashions of the 1920s.

Numerous other illustrated “faces” include those for The New Yorker; turn-of-the-20th-century women’s magazines; B. Cory Kilvert’s dust jacket design for the P.G. Wodehouse novel Indiscretions of Archie, 1921, E.H. Shepard’s colorful cover for Punch Almanack, 1937, and a dynamic cover by David Bowers for the 2001 tween time-travel fantasy novel A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones, an oil on panel, reminiscent of Dutch Old Master paintings.

Painter David Bowers uses the 15th-century Netherlands technique of alla prima, which blends wet on wet pigments and glazing to create a luminosity without visible brushstrokes.