James A. Michener Art Museum

Doylestown, PA



photo by Jeff Hurwitz


In Line With Al Hirschfeld: An Al Hirschfeld Retrospective

September 30, 2000 - February 11, 2001

"The problem of placing the right line in the right place has absorbed all of my interests across these many years...I am still enchanted when an unaccountable line describes and communicates the inexplicable."

Al Hirschfeld


"In Line With Al Hirschfeld: An Al Hirschfeld Retrospective" is the first museum retrospective to document Al Hirschfeld's life, 70 year career and, to a great extent, the history of the performing arts in the 20th century and beyond. It examines his influences, his iconography and his techniques, from his earliest works to his most recent drawings. (left: Self-Portrait, 1980, pen and ink on board, 14.25 x 17 inches, Collection of the Artist)

Curator David Leopold was given carte blanche to examine a lifetime of work with the artist at his side, and he has assembled a retrospective that begins with a drawing made by Hirschfeld when he was 11 years old and ends with his most recently published New York Times' work. Included are all facets of his lively talent: movie work for MGM films, drawings produced in Paris, North Africa, Ball and Russia in the late 1920s (which are seen for the first time); lithographs produced in 1930s; political work; the New York nightlife; the first Nina drawing and others, assembled in roughly chronological order.

Visitors have the opportunity to trace this unique artist's evolution by viewing his own body of work, including original drawings and paintings, sketchbooks and ephemera, much of which has never been exhibited before. A legendary master of line, Hirschfeld has influenced virtually everyone working in black and white today, and lies drawings have delighted audiences for decades.

Self-described as a "characterist," Hirschfeld strives to capture the spirit and personality of his subject, rather than to distort its figure. In this way, he transmutes the negative characteristics of the genre known as caricature in his thumbprint: a joyful, life affirming line. He states, "It's a question of distilling the character. To squeeze out the essence of the character rather than just plain distortion for distortion's sake." (left: drawing of the opening of the Bucks County Playhouse, 1939, © Al Hirschfeld. In the foreground, from left to right, are Moss Hart, Beatrice Kaufman, George S. Kaufman, and Richard Bennett)

Hirschfeld's association with the New York Times has made his name a verb of recognition. To be "Hirschfelded" is a sign that one has arrived. This exhibition demonstrates that intuitively, Hirschfeld assimilated the graphic sense of both his friends John Held and Miquel Covarrubias and the manipulation of perspective of Japanese print masters Hokusai and Utamaro. Instead of relying on the outline or profile of his subjects, like many of his early contemporaries, he has employed a palette of graphic symbols to translate the action of the whole body into line drawings that have become the lingua franca of generations of actors and audiences,

An innovative series of programs, including lectures, gallery talks, teacher workshops, and other activities has been organized for In Line With Al Hirschfeld: An Al Hirschfeld Retrospective.

Funding for this exhibition was provided by a grant from the Mellon Financial Corporation Foundation. Additional support has been provided Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Read more in Resource Library about the Michener Art Museum.

TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:

Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story, The is a 86 minute DVD from Home Vision Entertainment directed by Susan W. Dryfoos and starring Carol Channing, Joan Collins, Jules Feiffer, Robert Goulet, Barbara Walters, Dolly Haas, Joseph Papp and Lauren Bacall. Nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Documentary Feature (1996), The Line King celebrates Hirschfeld's many years of work for The New York Times, where his drawings were a centerpiece of the Sunday Arts section. ISBN:  0-7800-2796-5

TFAO does not maintain a lending library of videos or sell videos. Click here for information on how to borrow or purchase copies of VHS videos and DVDs listed in TFAO's Videos -DVD/VHS, an authoritative guide to videos in VHS and DVD format.


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

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/6/11

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