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American, ca. 1949–52

“Romanian-born Saul Steinberg (1914–1999) is perhaps one of America’s most renowned illustrators. Steinberg’s inimitable graphic style traversed media and movements with unparalleled ease; consistent yet unpredictable, his artwork—whether drawings, paintings, prints, or collages—defies categorization as it negotiates complexities of humor, satire and social commentary through both fine and commercial arts. His association with The New Yorker, which began in 1941 and yielded more than 1,200 illustrations for the erudite magazine, established Steinberg as an influential force in the American art world. Steinberg’s signature style, conspicuous because of the frequency with which his illustrations appeared on The New Yorker covers, caught on quickly. His first New York solo exhibition was held in 1943; three years later, Steinberg was selected for “Fourteen Americans,” the Museum of Modern Art’s showcase of national talent. In 1949, he painted a mural and illustrated the catalogue for “An Exhibition for Modern Living,” Alexander Girard’s landmark installation of modernist interior design at the Detroit Institute of Arts and J.L. Hudson department store. Steinberg’s inclusion among designers like Girard, Charles and Ray Eames, and Florence Knoll—all well-known for their work in textiles—ensured his success in design industries as a cross-over phenomenon.

Once his style and name had become draws, Steinberg was approached by home furnishing companies interested in reproducing his witty artwork on their products. Though he rejected many proposals, from 1949 through the mid-1950s Steinberg supplied designs on a fee-and-royalty basis to Patterson Fabrics, New York. A series of quirky, pictorial prints—Views of Paris, Wedding Picture, Cowboys, and Horses, to name a few — were printed on drapery fabrics and wallpaper. A quintessential example of his energetic precision and comical observations, Horses is a Steinberg illustration not on paper, but on a cotton which—with its crisp, polished surface—mimics the semigloss finish of a magazine page.

Horses, Screen-Printed Cotton by Saul Steinberg

The cheerfully rhythmic pattern repeat is composed in four distinct registers. A row of glass-domed and mansard-roofed pavilions, accented with curlicue finials and equestrian statues, forms the only suggestion of a fixed horizon line; in front, tiny horses with riders and horse-drawn carriages rush about. To the right of this bustling scene, a dignified gentleman and little girl ride boxy horses whose legs mingle together underneath their bodies. Above is a plump-bodied horse with a dog—seated precariously on its rump—holding the reins and a crop in his mouth; this duo confronts two phalanxes of mounted soldiers, receding singlefile into the distance, led in charge by a fearless commander. The topmost registers feature a hunting party accompanied by enthusiastic hounds; a rotund, prancing steed and rider shaded with cross-hatching; an equestrian jumper and diminutive trick-rider; and a sulky carriage manned by a strict-looking driver, pulled by a horse of bulky, exaggerated proportions. Judicious splashes of bright color heighten the design, but it is Steinberg’s fanciful, expressive brush-and linework that make Horses so lively—the pressure of the artist’s hand, the elasticity of his pen’s nib are sensed throughout.

A black-and-white sidewall panel of Horses is in the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum collection (1952343).

108” H x 37.5” W

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