Al Hirschfeld, whose career spanned 82 years, made drawings that were often said to look more like the person they pictured than the actual person himself. “The Line King’s Library,” the largest yet exhibition of Hirschfeld’s artwork and archival material, is now on view at The New York Public Library’s Donald & Mary Oenslager Gallery. Here, Iceman Cometh with Jason Robards, 1960.

A never-before published and extremely rare print of Martha Graham from 1969, dug up from the NYPL's collection. "I was like a kid in a candy shop," says curator David Leopold of finding "buried treasure" like this.

At the peak of his career, “Hirschfeld” was a verb. "You got Hirschfelded" meant you had officially made it in show biz, or any biz, really.
Raymond Massey in Abe Lincoln In Illinois, c. 1971.

Curator David Leopold is arguably the world’s greatest Hirschfeld expert--as the artist’s archivist for 18 years, he no doubt knows Hirschfeld's body of work more intimately than anyone else. Daughter of Silence, 1961. With Emlyn Williams, Rip Torn, Janet Margolin and William Hansen.

“Hirschfeld’s drawings play such a big role in what we know of Broadway. More people have seen his drawings than the shows they portray.” And that’s a legacy that continues. Says Leopold, “He can do in one drawing what it takes 24 frames to do in animation. His drawings are always moving. They’re not static.” Broadway Rhythm, 1943.

“Hirschfeld was one of these individuals that change the way we see things,” says Leopold. “He wasn’t the best at what he did. He was the only one who did what he did.” George Kaufman and Moss Hart with program for You Can’t Take It With You, c. 1971

“The Line King’s Library” features a whole case devoted to Nina, Hirschfeld’s daughter, whose name was camouflaged into characters’ hair or stitched into their clothing in his drawings for The Sunday Times. Numbered next to his signature, he created a kind of “Where’s Nina?” game for readers. Charleston. Lithograph from the Rhythm series portfolio, 1970.

Sidney Kingsley with a program for Men in White, c. 1971.

The only playbook Hirschfeld ever illustrated -- a limited edition of A Streetcar Named Desire, 1982. Leopold tells Co.Design, “If you said 20 years ago, who will get a Broadway theater named after him first—Tennessee Williams, or Al Hirschfeld? You’d think Tennessee Williams, no question, but we only saw 15 years of Williams’ work,” says Leopold. But the Al Hirschfeld Theatre was thus named June 21, 2003, which would have been his 100th birthday.

Jack Lemmon in Tribute, 1979.

Whoopi Goldberg, 1984. "The Line King's Library" offers in-gallery access to the Al Hirschfeld Foundation’s interactive searchable database of Hirschfeld's entire catalogue of more than 10,000 works.

You Can’t Take it With You, c. 1971. With Paul Trueman, George Tobias, Henry Travers, and Josephine Hull. As the artist Jules Feiffer put it, Hirschfeld’s drawings “always seem to happen in the present.”

Men In White, c. 1971. Hirschfeld availed himself of the New York Public Library's book and picture collections, he attended its events, and was a lifelong supporter.

A Streetcar Named Desire, c.1971. With Jessica Tandy and Marlon Brando. One of the Pulitzer Prize series commissioned and donated to the Billy Rose Theater Division by Harold Steinberg.

My Fair Lady window card, 1956. The exhibition also includes video interviews with Hirschfeld from the Library's Theatre on Film and Tape Archive and highlights from the starry dedication of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in 2003.

Leonard Bernstein, date unknown. Shadow puppets from Hirschfeld’s personal collection are featured at the NYPL exhibition, with an exploration of their impact on his work.

Pas De Deux, 1970. Lithograph from the Rhythm series portfolio.

Cakewalk, 1970. Lithograph from the Rhythm series portfolio. The Line King's Library is on view through January 4th, 2014.

Co.Design

18 Of Al Hirschfeld's Greatest Drawings

He was the king of Broadway caricature. Now, a new exhibition at the NYPL showcases his immense body of work.

When the Broadway caricature master Al Hirschfeld drew a powerful CBS executive for a major newspaper, he received an angry phone call from CBS, complaining that the character in the drawing looked like “a gorilla.” “That’s not my doing,” Hirschfeld responded. “That’s God’s work.”

This was a time when “Hirschfeld” was a verb. "You got Hirschfelded" meant you had officially made it in show biz, or any biz, really. Hirschfeld, whose career spanned 82 years, made drawings that were often said to look more like the person they pictured than the actual person himself--gorilla-esque or otherwise, they were never mean-spirited, just accurate. His linear calligraphic style captured the essences of stars from Whoopi Goldberg to Martha Graham to Arthur Miller to Carol Channing. These portraits and more are featured in “The Line King’s Library,” the largest yet exhibition of Hirschfeld’s artwork and archival material, now on view at The New York Public Library’s Donald & Mary Oenslager Gallery.

Curator David Leopold is arguably the world’s greatest Hirschfeld expert--as the artist’s archivist for 18 years, he no doubt knows Hirschfeld's body of work more intimately than anyone else. When the New York Public Library asked Leopold to help gather all the Hirschfeld works in its collection to put together an exhibition, “I was like a kid in a candy shop," Leopold tells Co.Design. "I was so thrilled. We discovered drawings; we discovered prints. I don’t know what other people do for excitement or thrills. I don’t skydive. But going into a library and finding buried treasure, that’s pretty exciting for a curator.”

He goes on: “If you said 20 years ago, who will get a Broadway theater named after him first--Tennessee Williams, or Al Hirschfeld? You’d think Tennessee Williams, no question, but we only saw 15 years of Williams’s work,” says Leopold. Hirschfeld, on the other hand, spent 82 years translating Broadway stars into dazzling pen-and-ink drawings. He never suffered any kind of real creative block, and avoided peaking and burning out, like some artists do. The Al Hirschfeld Theatre was thus named June 21, 2003, which would have been his 100th birthday. (He had died just five months before.) “Hirschfeld’s drawings play such a big role in what we know of Broadway. More people have seen his drawings than the shows they portray.” And that’s a legacy that continues. Says Leopold, “He can do in one drawing what it takes 24 frames to do in animation. His drawings are always moving. They’re not static.” As the artist Jules Feiffer put it, Hirschfeld’s drawings “always seem to happen in the present.”

“The Line King’s Library” features a whole case devoted to Nina, Hirschfeld’s daughter, whose name was camouflaged into characters’ hair or stitched into their clothing in his drawings for the Sunday Times. Numbered next to his signature, he created a kind of “Where’s Nina?” game for readers. Also showcased are letters from stumped, obsessive fans who can’t find the last Nina in a given illustration. In addition to influencing contemporary illustrators, from the animator of Ratatouille to Jules Feiffer, Hirschfeld had scores of underage imitators, and featured here is the work of child artists who hid Ninas or their own names in Crayola compositions.

“Hirschfeld was one of these individuals that change the way we see things,” says Leopold. “He wasn’t the best at what he did. He was the only one who did what he did.”

The Line King's Library is on view at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts' Donald & Mary Oenslager Gallery through January 4th, 2014.

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