Updated: Dec 5, 2022
Last October, David Lake Prince, Associate Director and Curator of Collections at Syracuse University's SU Galleries, showed members a collection of Edward Penfield's work for HARPER'S Magazine. The magazine was founded in 1850 and continues in print today. Penfield was its art editor from 1891 to 1901. About 50 of his original ink and watercolor paintings were given to the university by the MacArthur Foundation to complement SU's Winslow Homer holdings. These were the masters for a withly series of multicolor lithographs, typically i 1" by 1 7" in size, used to advertise the magazine.
Penfield was influenced by European Impressionism and the Arts and Crafts ideal of hand production and individual attention to detail. He mixed the inks, supervised the printing and signed his work. As with Frank Lloyd Wright, he used the machine for what it could do, but with close personal supervision. Motifs and compositions have a stylistic affinity to Toulouse-Lautrec's hand printed music hall posters and to those of the Japanese Uki-yo-e. Penfield envisioned a flat picture plane with objects floating, abstracted natural forms in flat colors, backgrounds free of detail and informal casual poses of people going about their daily lives. The presentation gallery had an exhibition of Uki-yo-e prints on the walls for participants to make comparisons. Penfield was also fond of cats and antique horse-drawn coaches and used them frequently in his artwork. By 1897, he had begun to use stipple effects and outline techniques for more detail. His visual vocabulary of bold colors and simplified imagery provided leadership to an entire generation of American graphic artists.