Al Hirschfeld and Fred Astaire

I came across this totally impressive print of Fred Astaire and it rewards a thorough inspection. And so, let the inspection begin!

To start – a view of the overall picture:

I first began to closely examine this print when I noticed Fred’s dancing shoes. All black? Of course not – too easy. Even though actual tap shoes are invariably pure black.

No, Hirschfeld decided these shoes would be a medium gray, created via closely packed lines. Note the control – the even spacing of white and black.

Here’s an interesting detail. Did he make a mistake? Look carefully at the fingers. One of them is crossing UNDER the others. That’s physically impossible. The thumb can do it but the thumb is clearly illustrated. Mistake? Or purposely done to see if anyone notices? Or done because it looked better to him and he didn’t care that it wasn’t correct? Beats me.

How about this? Does Hirschfeld make a black cane black? No. If you look closely it’s comprised of a multitude of crossing diagonals. Carefully placed to produce a dark gray seeming, but not pure black, surface.

Next, look at the end of his cuff. Nothing there – no ink. And so the shirt appears even more white by allowing our mind to imagine the edge.

Finally, what about that dark background that allows the white space to appear as a spotlight? How did he do that? Spray paint? An infinite amount of time spent on stippling? If you know the answer, please tell me!

I am most amazed by this section of Fred Astaire’s caricature. Allow me to draw your attention to Fred’s mouth. Notice how it is comprised of ink and nothing more. No big deal.

And now look at his bowtie. Is this also just an expense of black, pretty much as any caricaturist would do? I’ll answer my own question. No, it isn’t. There’s a black border and the interior region of the cloth is rendered as black with white speckles. Tiny white speckles. How did he do this? I don’t know. Was he leaving whitespace or was he adding tiny dots of white?

Would you even notice this in a small reproduction. Nope. It’s there to reward the person viewing a full size print or the original. It’s there because Hirschfeld wanted to take the time to do it. It’s there because this is a Hirschfeld.

4 responses... add one

I think the thing with one finger crossing underneath the others is an optical illusion. It took a few times of refocusing my eyes to see it, but the curve that makes it look like a finger crossing wrong is actually the interior curve of the thumb. The outer line of that far finger actually continues down into the far-edge line of the palm.

And there’s a “Nina” on Fred’s left arm that looks like random shading in the small image.

Nice analysis!

Yep. I left that as the “unmentioned surprise”.

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