Brandywine River Museum

Chadds Ford, PA



The Talk of the Town; Rea Irvin of The New Yorker


Few artists have had as enduring an influence on one magazine as Rea Irvin has had on The New Yorker. As the magazine's first art editor, Irvin (1881-1972) created a style that continues to define the publication to this day--witty, urbane, and socially and culturally aware.

Beginning March 18, 2000 "The Talk of the Town; Rea Irvin of The New Yorker," an exhibition at the Brandywine River Museum, presents 83 original illustrations from the Museum of the City of New York's extensive collection of Irvm's original covers, drawings and cartoons. (left: "How adorably those persons go with the scenery!" Unpublished, c. 1920, gouache, ink on illustration board, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Rea Irvin)

Born in San Francisco, Irvin started his career in illustration as an unpaid cartoonist for The San Francisco Examiner. His only former training consisted of six months' study at the Hopkins Art Institute. At the age of 25, he moved to the East Coast and was soon a regular contributor to Life and Cosmopolitan magazines.

In 1924, Irvin joined an advisory board to help launch The New Yorker. For the cover of the magazine's debut issue the next year, Irvin created Eustace Tilley, a smartly attired dandy with a monocle and top hat. This amusing and worldly, yet somewhat detached, character embodied the spirit of the new publication. Tilley quickly became Irvin's signature piece and has reappeared on the magazine's cover every year since, with one exception--1994.

Between 1925 and 1958, Irvin's work appeared on 169 covers of The New Yorker. Hundreds of other illustrations by Irvin were also published inside the magazine. The exhibition features many of these works, including caricatures of contemporary figures such as Diego Rivera and Pablo Picasso, and parodies of social issues. One example, The Unity of the Allied Nations which appeared on The New Yorker's July 1, 1944 cover, depicts the American Eagle, the Chinese Dragon, the Russian Bear and the British Lion clearly united in the pursuit of victory during World War II. (left: Tea Service, Unpublished, c. 1955, gouache on illustration board, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Rea Irvin)

In addition to his illustrations, Irvin contributed significantly to The New Yorker's layout and design. He created the magazine's sharp and casually elegant type style, which is still known as "Irvin type," and he added the squiggly column rules that provide a distinct delineation between text and illustrations.

In 1967, Irvin gave his personal collection of 412 works on paper to the Museum of the City of New York. A majority of the works in the exhibition have rarely been seen since their original publication. (right: "Yes we have our new house. It's so delightfully functional!" Unpublished, c. 1950, ink, wash on paper, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Rea Irvin)

Continuing through May 21, 2000 "The Talk of the Town; Rea Irvin of The New Yorker" introduces visitors to the broad range of Irvin's talent and explores his enduring influence on The New Yorker magazine and American illustration.

This exhibition was made possible by a generous gift from The New Yorker Magazine, Inc. and a grant from Mr. and Mrs. John R. Lakian and Mr. and Mrs. George R. Begley. Local presentation of this exhibition is made possible by a grant from the Mellon Financial Corporation Foundation.

Read more about the Brandywine River Museum in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

rev. 1/6/11

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