Monday, March 23, 2009

Carl (Eric) Erickson (1891-1958)

What I know about the history of illustration could fill a thimble, and when you're talking fashion illustration, I know even less. In fact, nothing. But I am keen to learn.

Luckily there are TI list members from many diverse backgrounds, including some who are intimately and passionately involved with fashion illustration. It is thanks to them that I ever even heard of Carl Oscar August Erickson, better known by his famous signature 'Eric'.

Walt Reed wrote about Eric in his book, The Illustrator in America. Reed said that the artist was "himself the personification of his elegant world... [he] wore a bowler and carried a walking stick, and he directly participated in the fashionable life of the international set."

Reed tells us that Eric "dominated the field of fashion illustration for over thirty-five years." That's a pretty remarkable accomplishment, unmatched, I would venture, by any other 20th century illustrator!

Eric became a staff illustrator for Vogue magazine in 1923, and most of this week's scans will be from that publication.

Reed also writes that Eric's "drawings and paintings are authoritative because he knew his subjects and their world; his taste and beautiful draftsmanship reveal him to be an artist of permanent importance."

With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to study Eric's work in greater detail. If you are in a position to teach us something about the artist, your contribution would be greatly appreciated!

And of course, comments from any and all are always welcome.

My Carl Erickson Flickr set.


  1. Leif, I've loved Eric's work for a long time (that second image of the woman with the compact is one of my favorites) but I must confess I am bitterly disappointed by the photograph. That pudgy little guy with the bowler hat doesn't look at all like the international jet setter with an ascot that I have envisioned all these years. And his work space! He's as big a slob as I am! I guess if you are one of the beautiful people, you get to put your art supplies on a fireplace mantle rather than a credenza.

  2. Anonymous3:34 PM

    Eric had the good years -- the two-and-a-half decades after the War when our heads would swivel not only because a woman was beautiful, but also because what she wore was beautiful!

  3. Anonymous4:14 PM

    I love to see these artists at work. Their studios. How the man here holds his brush. The way he looks at it.
    Did he always wear a hat while working?

    And a very interesting subject I find what these connoisseurs had on their walls in the studio.
    Here in the background you find a Brueghel - Brueghel's depiction of summer season.

  4. Here's what Fred Smith, an illustrator at the Cooper Studio in it's heyday, had to say about Eric:

    "He would draw from the model & a few lines would tell everything. He lived in the building diagonally across from Cooper Studio. We would see him in the early morning. He had a bowler, beautiful clothes, a Chinese chef & a poodle. Sometimes he'd be standing out in the middle of the street at Lexington & 57th directing traffic with a newspaper when he when he was headed for Third Avenue, for his morning martini. He was the ultimate artist -- a magnificent artist. Never sober, but never disreputable in any way. He just led a charmed life. He would come into a bar where all the guys from Cooper's went -- The Venetian. It was just below the studio, on Lexington. He always had a carnation in his lapel. He generally had a walking stick with him. He loved the fights. He would come into The Venetian & demonstrate how Sharkey fought, how Tunney fought, & he would prance around. Everybody would go up to the Waldorf for lunch, & so would he. He had a whistle he'd blow when he got in there, & the waiters would come over & take him to a table. He would have a lot of martinis & eat a little something. He had a certain style that doesn't exist anymore."

  5. Anonymous5:32 PM

    Great to See Eric here, one of my favorites and one of my fathers as well as I recall. I have a drawing by Eric done in 1917 when he still signed his work Carl Erickson. I'll try to get a decent pick and forward it (far to big to scan).

    Wish I posted more often but can assure I do visit frequently and always enjoy it all tremendously.

    >Tom Whitmore

  6. I don't know anything about fashion illustration either but I don't think you need to in order to appreciate those fabulous line drawings. This looks like it's going to be a good week. Thanks Leif.

  7. Anonymous9:57 AM

    Eric's work has always been a favorite of mine. He and Rene Gruau always produced the sort of pictures that seemed to not merely illustrate an idea, but seemed to atmospherically bring to mind a time and place. You can almost smell their models' fragrances.

    Their influence on more contemporary talents like Antonio and Michael Vollbracht is huge--both those guys are worth checking out. I believe SI just mounted a museum show of Antonio's stuff.

    And then there's George Stavrinos--AKA as the Drew Struzan or Richard Amsel of fashion illustration. I owned a beautiful original many years ago, which my second wife got in the settlement.

    Oh well.

    And I loved the shot of him in the bowler. He reminded me of Robert Benchley, and the reminiscence from Fred Smith--another terrific illustrator--was perfect.

    Thanks, LP.

  8. Leif-

    Eric was a big influence on Jack Potter and, at one point, they both shared the same agent.

    Jack knew the family and when Eric passed away he got many originals. I was fortunate enough to see many of them back when I was a student. Great stuff.

    Over the years I've put together a collection of tearsheets and various things on him. I'll try to send you some scans.

  9. As Mr. Chaykin mentions, Rene Gruau's work bears a close relationship to that of Eric's. They both were the highest exemplars of a certain painterly, almost calligraphic style that reached full maturity some time after the war.
    I always found Gruau to be the stronger draughtsman, and rather the better colourist as well. But what he possessed in superior technique he perhaps lost in poetry; Eric's line's a little less showy, more elegant than Gruau's; it seemed to prefer to take its time to get there.

    Then again, the Marts may have had a bit to do with that meandering tendency.

    It's worth mentioning, if no one has already, the work of a young British illustrator by the name of David Downton. He's torn pages and pages from the mid century fashion illustrator's handbook ( if you ever find a copy, please tell me), but he's still wholly original and a real talent in his own rite (and draw (apologies to John Lennon...))

  10. Paul J. Tascarella3:20 PM

    It's great to hear this discussion about Carl Erickson and fashion illutration in general. What a wonderful art form. I'm still waiting for one of the major museums to do a exhibit that would include the works of these masters, past and present. Eric, Gruau, Antonio, Viramontes, Stavrinos, Eula, Kenneth Paul Block, David Downton, etc. etc.

    I love them all but, personally, I would have to put George Stavrinos at the top of my list. Of course it's impossible to say was the greatest fashion illustrator was, but I think I can say with confidence that Stavrinos was the finest draftsman. His pencil drawings for Barney's, Bergdorf Goodman's and the New York City Opera are exquisite in their detail. Stavrinos himself said that one single drawing would take three days and nights to complete which, along with his death at an early age, may account for their scarcity.

    If you're unfamiliar with his work you might find a few examples on the internet, and be prepared for a visual treat!

  11. My grandmother inherited some of Erics works. He was good friends with Ivan Taylor who did Macys windows displays. Over the years Eric would send Ivan illustrations. When Ivan died in 1990 my grandmother a good friend of his inherited several drawings. If anyone is interested in them or Ivan's works he was an artist and fashion designer as well let me know.

  12. Grace3:50 AM

    I'm actually doing a research assignment of Eric and this blog has been a great starting point thankyou! I was just wondering if anyone knew anything about the photo taken of him in his studio? when where etc.