Nine Decades of Al Hirschfeld | Performing Arts

These volumes of Hirschfeld’s illustrations and caricatures form a remarkable visual history of Broadway theater in its heyday.

Hirschfeld, Al. The American Theatre as Seen by Hirschfeld: 1928–1961. Applause. Sept. 2023. 280p. ed. by David Leopold. ISBN 9781493077243. $60. THEATER

In the first of this impressive two-volume set, Al Hirschfeld Foundation creative director and editor Leopold has chronologically assembled the canon of the award-winning caricaturist of the Broadway theater Al Hirschfeld (1903–2003). This work (originally published in 1961) covers more than 30 years, with most of the drawings introduced by Hirschfeld himself. Each drawing has a caption identifying the subject, date, and, in some cases, the production source material for the illustration. Not all the art is from Hirschfeld’s 75-year career with the New York Times. The book also includes beautiful art he created for the Works Project Administration and International Ladies Garment Workers productions in the 1930s, plus his creations for famous performances by Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Fanny Brice, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and others. After the birth of his daughter Nina in 1945, Hirschfeld introduced her name surreptitiously into many of his drawings, which became a signature of his work for decades. In addition to the Broadway productions, including his instantly recognizable art for My Fair Lady, there are posters and advertisements for other landmark performing arts events. VERDICT Packed with iconic artwork, this is an essential purchase.

Hirschfeld, Al. The American Theatre as Seen by Hirschfeld: 1962–2002. Applause. Sept. 2023. 249p. ed. by David Leopold. ISBN 9781493077267. $60. THEATER

The second of a two-volume set of Hirschfeld’s drawings covers the final 40 years of his rich and productive career. Nearly every well-known theater performer is immortalized by Hirschfeld’s drawings, and this book’s breadth of coverage is dazzling. Each decade is introduced with an appreciative appraisal from notables like Maureen Dowd (“His art reflects his temperament, avoiding nasty or distorted images in favor of the playful”), Terrence McNally (“His work is born of love, respect, and enthusiasm for the performer”), and Jules Feiffer (“He is to caricature what Fred Astaire is to dance”). Hirschfeld’s first color drawings in the New York Times began in 1994 with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, although he’d created color poster artwork as early as the 1940s. VERDICT A remarkable visual history of Broadway theater in its heyday and the New York performing arts scene until Hirschfeld died in 2003. With its comprehensive indexes, this work is a fitting tribute to an outstanding artist. Should be a mandatory addition to reference art and performing arts collections.

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