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By Nina J P Evans

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Celestial Eyes


The Gatsby cover, as I mentioned in my previous post about the relationship between author and illustrator with regard to this iconic cover; I wanted to find out more about Francis Cugat and his design sketches. Here is an interesting essay (link) on discussing Cugat’s preliminary drawings he did, and it argues that the preliminary sketches by the artist of the Long Island Railroad, among the Ash Heaps shows that there is no billboard of  Dr. T. J. Eckleburg. The essay suggests that Fitzgerald was still to conceive the idea, it states:
“The fact that in Cugat’s sketch there is no indication of a billboard, much less the bespectacled eyes of Doctor Eckleburg, suggests that Fitzgerald had yet to conceive his optical symbolòor at least, had yet to share it with either his editor or the artist. We are left then with the enticing possibility that Fitzgerald’s arresting image was originally prompted by Cugat’s fantastic apparitions over the valley of ashes; in other words, that the author derived his inventive metamorphosis from a recurrent theme of Cugat’s trial jackets, one which the artist himself was to reinterpret and transform through subsequent drafts.” 

Fitzgerald before marrying Zelda and publishing his first novel This Side of Paradise, had a brief career at Barron Collier advertising agency New York. Surely he would have known something about billboards and business of advertising, such as the importance of design and location, so the artwork and copy being seen by a moving vehicle. Also, a little deeper than that, its impact on the transformation of the surrounding environmental scenes, affecting people’s lives in some way. The bespectacled eyes of Doctor Eckleburg in the book, interestingly the billboard had  become redundant and seemed to serve no further purpose.

I think the title of the painting was the trigger that  Fitzgerald needed, enabling him to think between the celestial eyes and his previous experience of working in an advertising company. Charles Scribner (his publisher)  says, “it became the most celebrated jacket art and widely disseminated jacket art in 20th-century American literature.”


In 1915 Francis Cugat was commissioned to paint portraits of the stars at the Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. Moving to Hollywood in 1925 worked as a set designer with Douglas Fairbanks, it was through his works in the film industry that his works became known to the publisher Charles Scribner. Later in 1942 Cugat had a solo exhibition of his paintings in NewYork. Apart from the celebrated Gatsby cover; Cugat was a Technicolor consultant and was credited for technical work on sixty-eight Hollywood films.
 Murtore, Raisa and Rimini Theatre Cards - 1915–1917
George Gershwin (An American in Paris) - c. 1928, Etching.
Celestial Eyes - A painting for the cover of The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Technicolor Color Consultant for the 1955 movie Three for the Show
Technicolor Color Consultant for the John Ford/John Wayne film The Quiet Man
French Quarter, New Orleans landscape painting
Bridgetoan Harbor, Barbados landscape painting

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