Nobody talks much today about Frederic Rodrigo Gruger (1871-1953), but years ago, Time magazine proclaimed Gruger "the dean of U.S. magazine illustrators." Norman Rockwell looked up to Gruger as "one of our greatest illustrators."

I suspect one reason Gruger is not more highly regarded today is that his illustrations (almost exclusively black and white drawings) were printed using the limited technology of his era, which turned his rich, dense blacks into chalky grays and lost much of the sharpness and sensitivity of his line.

Gruger in The Saturday Evening Post

Despite the constraints of his medium, Gruger continued to create an astonishing 6,000 illustrations from 1898 to 1943 employing consistently high standards.  His work appeared in most of the top publications of his era. Such an artistic effort deserves attention.

Fortunately, today's improved technology creates a perfect opportunity to assess Gruger's work as it really looked.  So each day this week we'll check out scans of some of Gruger's original drawings.

 Illustration from “Show Boat” by Edna Ferber,
Woman’s Home Companion, April 1926,
Carbon pencil & wash, 10.75 x 16.5"

Gruger understood the human form well enough to rotate human heads and hands as needed for his composition.

Gruger proudly displays his swordsmanship, nimbly searching out the designs in his subject.  Leaving these organizing  lines exposed  preserves vitality in a drawing that might otherwise become overworked and sedentary.

As figures become less important, Gruger's pencil lines become lighter and his details become more sparse, yet even with such characters he uses broad strokes accurately to convey body language and make a meaningful contribution to the drawing.

Notice how subtly he uses a wash to consolidate dark areas of interest in his drawing.

Tomorrow, a different type of drawing from Gruger.

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