Visu­al Arts

Mau­rice Sendak: A Cel­e­bra­tion of the Artist and His Work

Justin G. Schiller, Den­nis M.V. David, Leonard S. Mar­cus; Mau­rice Sendak, illus.
  • Review
By – January 9, 2014

To cel­e­brate the career of Mau­rice Sendak, one of the most influ­en­tial illus­tra­tors of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, the Soci­ety of Illus­tra­tors pre­sent­ed an exhi­bi­tion of his work in June 2013 and pub­lished this cat­a­logue fea­tur­ing more than two hun­dred images of Sendak’s work.

Sendak had a var­ied career, tack­ling almost any assign­ment that came his way — depart­ment store win­dow dis­plays, operas, posters, adver­tise­ments — and bring­ing to them all his bril­liant imag­i­na­tion, artis­tic pow­er, and an at times sly sense of humor. In addi­tion, Sendak was a schol­ar and col­lec­tor of illus­tra­tion and fine art as well as a keen observ­er, and he drew on this store­house to enrich his work. Leaf­ing through the pages of this over­sized vol­ume with its well-repro­duced images, read­ers will see inti­ma­tions of Mick­ey Mouse, Lit­tle Nemo, clas­sic Vic­to­ri­an illus­tra­tors, William Blake, Ralph Calde­cott. Lau­rel and Hardy are also influ­ences, most obvi­ous­ly in The Night Kitchen.

Twelve diverse friends and col­leagues have con­tributed large­ly per­son­al essays to the cat­a­logue, offer­ing inter­est­ing glimpses into Sendak’s work although sel­dom into his life apart from his work. At times these writ­ers assume a lit­tle too much, sup­pos­ing read­ers will have the same knowl­edge they have of Sendak. But clear­ly the focus of this cat­a­logue is Sendak’s work, although occa­sion­al­ly read­ers might want a lit­tle more back­ground to fill out the essays and con­nect the art in the book with the points the essays make. An index would have helped read­ers put togeth­er some of these connections.

Above all, the val­ue of the cat­a­logue is its pub­li­ca­tion of much work that has not been seen before — pre­lim­i­nary sketch­es with notes, casu­al cor­re­spon­dence, pri­vate hold­ings. It is very sat­is­fy­ing to see a gift­ed artist at work and at leisure. There is also illu­mi­nat­ing mate­r­i­al on what Sendak called his tril­o­gy—Where the Wild Things Are, The Night Kitchen, and Out­side Over There, three very dif­fer­ent books that deal with deep-seat­ed children’s emo­tions and give them expres­sion in care­ful­ly thought-out art. Mau­rice Sendak offers an excep­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ty to look at Sendak’s work and pro­fes­sion­al life from many angles and to see anew what he achieved. Con­trib­u­tors list.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions