Where He Crosses Over: Edward Gorey Posters & Postcards

“I didn’t know GOREY did that poster!”

Edward Gorey’s poster for New York City Ballet is a classic image–
and not necessarily one that brings to mind Gorey.

That was the excited reaction of a Swann employee as she spotted the six-foot-high poster of a ballerina’s feet in five positions that Edward Gorey created for The New York City Ballet in the early 1970s which currently hangs on the exhibition wall for Wednesday’s sale of Art, Press & Illustrated Books and The Edward Gorey Collection of Samuel Speigel. She remembered her grandmother giving her a treasured beach towel with the image when she was a child because she loved dance but had never known the creator of the beloved and ubiquitous ballet feet to be the same as that of The Doubtful Guest.  

Gorey’s poster for the first season of the PBS show Mystery!

Many people remember Gorey’s imagery weaving its way into their lives, whether as the opening scenes for the PBS Mystery! series (arguably his most reproduced and that launched his worldwide fame), bits from Amphigorey and The Gashleycrumb Tinies (the poor children who befell various indecent fates) or the Broadway production of Dracula with Gorey’s Gothic set designs. These iconic scenes and characters have been reproduced on book covers, posters and, even recently, music videos. Wednesday’s sale features several examples of the works that introduced these images, and their crossover appeal into other collecting areas is apparent–dance, theater, television, mystery and detective fiction, to name a few. Postcard aficionados will also have an abundance of lots to choose from as Gorey, himself a collector of postcards, loved creating them as well. They allowed him to invent little humorous or absurd scenarios, often based on themes with such droll titles as “Neglected Murderesses” or “Scènes de Ballet.”  

Gorey’s most well-known book, Amphigorey.

In addition to the crossover subjects, the great thing about having a varied and inclusive sale of art and illustrated works is the immediate recognition of stylistic influences between artists. One exhibition attendee pointed to lot 163, a Surrealist work by Heinrich Heisler with a visionary black-and-white line drawing by Toyen on the cover and asked if it was a work by Gorey. This was a perfect observation as it was purposely displayed along with items of Salvador Dali next to other works by Gorey, who appreciated, referenced and often borrowed from the Surrealists, most notably Max Ernst, whose play with clip art and dreamlike imagery appealed greatly to him. A rare set of broadsides called The Thoughtful Alphabet with their randomly patterned words from A-Z and Victorian-inspired graphics immediately call to mind the connection between the two artists.  

Gorey was influenced by the work of Surrealists, such as this illustration by Toyen for Heisler’s Nur die Turmfalken brunzen ruhig auf die 10 Gebote. Gedichte, lot 163.

It is the curating and exhibiting of these items together that truly brings a sale to life and what makes auctions a place for discovery for new and seasoned collectors alike.   

Two editions of the Thoughtful Alphabet, both reminiscent of Max Ernst.