• U.S.

Art: Morose Scrawler

3 minute read

For many a year the Valentine Gallery on Manhattan’s arty 57th Street has devoted itself to the more advanced of the socially acceptable left-wing artists. Because famed British Critic Paul Nash has referred to him as the successor to Matisse and Picasso; because he has been called a master of impressionistic line; because the people whom Hostess Elsa Maxwell invites to her parties have decided that he is “too, too divine,” the chaste grey walls of the Valentine Gallery were last week given over to a one-man show of the later drawings of James Grover Thurber. Gallerygoers, stepping sideways like crabs, passed from frame to frame in which were exposed the backs of old letterheads and odd sheets of scratch paper on which were scrawled the amiable bloodhounds, the horrid boneless women, the bald, browbeaten little men of Artist Thurber, associate editor and one of the two most successful members” of the staff of The New Yorker.

Artist Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio, 40 years ago. At Ohio State University he was a brilliant bedraggled student. Few of his friends knew that at the age of eight his left eye had been shot out by a playful playmate with an arrow. Through the Peace Conference, Thurber served as a code clerk in the U. S. Embassy in Paris. In 1925 he was Nice editor of the Paris edition of the Chicago

Tribune. Later he returned to New York, got himself a job on the old Evening Post. From that journalistic wreck he was rescued by bristle-haired, buck-toothed Editor Harold Ross of The New Yorker, who spent many months trying to make Thurber into a managing editor.

That he could never be, but James Thurber quickly established himself as one of the ablest, easily the maddest member of the neurotic crew that staffs the brightest weekly in the U. S. For two years no one but his friend and fellow editor, Elwyn Brooks (“Andy”) White, could see anv merit in the thousands of drawings with which Thurber covered all the loose stationery in The New Yorker office. Artist Thurber may not be a second Picasso but he is indubitably one of the most prolific telephone booth moral ists in the world.

Things trouble him. In protest against his boss’s fondness for locking doors and tearing down office partitions, he distrib uted among his friends a secret supply of pass keys to The New Yorker offices. Once he held a noise-making contest with carpenters and plasterers by rolling metal trash baskets up & down corridors. Stenographers still remember the day when James Thurber powdered his face white, upset the telephone booth, climbed into it, pretended he was a corpse in a coffin.

Since 1930, his scrawls of impotent, amorphous men and women and sad-eyed hounds have gained him international fame. They are enormously funny, and like most lasting humor, are the products of an unhappy mind. Three Thurber drawings that his associates on The New Yorker would never print were on view in his exhibition last week. Two were blasphemous: The Thurber Madonna and The Three Wise Men (three goggle-eyed oldsters smirking behind their hands at something that might be the Virgin). The third was The Gates of Life. Glum pedestrians hustled by in the background; sprawled on the grass in the foreground was a horrid little girl hoisting her skirts before a legless War veteran, with tears rolling down his cheeks.

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