Monday, February 29, 2016

Brooks on Books: The Hirschfield Century: Portrait of an Artist and his Age by Al Hirschfield and David Leopold

"The Hirschfield Century" is a beautiful, hefty art book that pays appropriate tribute to "The Line King" (as one documentary dubs him) Al Hirschfield, renowned for his caricatures of showbiz and other luminaries throughout the 20th century. If you want a fuller understanding of his art and his career, you will get that here. If you just want a lot of great reproductions of so many of the master's great drawings, you will get that, too.

David Leopold provides a mini-biography of the artist, successfully integrating his text with over 360 quality reproductions of Hirschfield drawings. There isn't a ton about his personal life, but the book serves as an excellent professional bio of the master. Leopold includes just enough about technique to give you a good idea of how Hirschfield works. Perhaps more importantly, his captions provide valuable context to the art. Everything is presented chronologically, with each chapter devoted a decade.

I personally enjoy the television- and movie-related portraits most, and I wouldn't have complained had "Century" featured them exclusively. However, Hirschfield's first and main love was the theater, so you get a heavy dose of Broadway in the volume. That work is compelling even if you aren't familiar with the subjects; Hirschfield's style is just that interesting. It's sure to nice who we ARE looking at, though. I was ignorant of many of the Broadway-related subjects in these pages.

Leopold does an amazing job arranging and presenting this material. I think this is about as good a Hirschfield coffee table book as you could ask for, with the only quibble one could make relating to wanting more artwork or being disappointed certain art wasn't included.

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