Monday, February 5, 2018

Football in an Age of Illustration

American football came of age during the Golden Age of Illustration.

J.C. Leyendecker
Famous illustrators of the time were asked to visualize the game. The talent included superstar artists such as N.C. Wyeth, J.C. Leyendecker, Frederic Remington, Winslow Homer, and Edward Penfield.

How did those classic illustrators interpret the sport visually? That's the question posed by Michael Oriard in his new book The Art of Football: The Early Game in the Golden Age of Illustration.

Arnold Friberg, Rutgers Princeton Game
Many artists played up the physical dynamics on the field. Football was a game where the action was fast and brutal. At first they didn't even wear helmets.

Frederic Remington
The action was mostly far from the observer. Cameras existed, but they didn't have the modern capabilities of telephoto, color, and super-fast shutter speeds.

Frederic Remington

Remington, who had played the game in college, had a natural flair for action.

J.C. Leyendecker focused on compositions with strong poster-like silhouettes to capture the glamorous aspects of the players both on and off the field.

Football was mostly a college game until 1920, when the American Professional Football Association (later the NFL) was formed. Its popularity grew rapidly, enough to get the attention of the major magazines.

Mr. Oriard, himself a player and a historian of the sport, says: "When played, football was always a brutal slugfest; when watched, the spectators were not the cream of American society, but 'sporting men' and their tarted-up female companions."

Some of the paintings in the book by W.T. Smedley and C.S. Reinhart (above), focus on the crowd and their reaction.

The book also includes how the game was reflected in early cartoons and pen-and-ink illustrations. The story of early football is fascinating on its own terms, but what I liked most was learning how the illustrators had to figure out for themselves what aspects of the game to focus on, and how to compose pictures that captured the spirit of the game.

The Art of Football: The Early Game in the Golden Age of Illustration by Michael Oriard.

244 pages, color and black and white, published by the University of Nebraska. Currently $29.05 on Amazon.


todd Zalewski said...

Arnold Friberg just does not get the recognition he deserves. Every picture he does seems full of detail with spot on technical prowess.

broker12 said...

Kind of an "aside" question . . . Why do so many of the Leyendecker oil paintings/sketches that I see have a solid white background? Thanks.