saturday_evening_post_19130111Robert Robinson (1886-1952)

[Joy Ride]
Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post (January 11, 1913)

Robert Robinson’s cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post reveals his ability to entertain through humor. Tickling the funny bone is the divergence of emotion expressed by the elderly man and his wife as they speed along on a chilly winter joyride. The man is confident and in control. He is clearly the originator of the cockamamie plan to go for a spin in an open automobile in the middle of January!  His forward position shows his determination; his eyes sparkle with anticipation; and he has a subtle smile. This journey appears to have been planned for fun, rather than for attending to some necessity.

The husband’s exuberance contrasts humorously with his wife’s reticent trepidation. The woman holds her hat and veil with one hand to keep it from blowing off her head and she grasps her husband’s arm with her other hand. Despite her fearfulness, the woman’s presence in this excursion implies that she may be a thrill-seeker too. Another reason to chuckle is the unexpectedness of Robinson’s unusually dynamic depiction of the elderly. The intriguing juxtaposition between the two provides humor as well as the reassurance that gleeful adventure is possible for those who seek it, at any age.

Automobiles were a recent invention in 1913, and from the start they provided adventure and fun as well as a practical means of transportation.  Unpaved roads, limited gas stations, inexperienced drivers, and open air vehicles added to the excitement. With so many potential perils associated with driving in the early twentieth century one might have thought that it would have been a pursuit of the young and reckless rather than one for more sensible senior citizens.  Robinson’s illustration dispels this myth on two counts:  The pleasures of driving are not limited to the young, and those who have achieved maturity still relish a good time!

87326saturday_evening_post_19130517Robert Robinson (1886-1952)
[Going to the Movies]
Oil on board
Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post (May 17, 1913)
Painting in the collection of The Illustrated Gallery


Robert Robinson depicts another senior citizen pursuing a good time in his Going to the Movies cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post. The well-dressed elderly gentleman, the main figure in the picture, reaches in his pocket to find money for a ticket to a moving picture show. He glances with anticipation at the placard poster showing an interesting scene from The Great White Way. The sign above the poster announces “SHOWING TO-DAY IN 3 REELS.” An attractive young lady in the ticket booth smiles encouragingly as she patiently awaits his purchase. 

This illustration pictures an independent elderly figure about to enjoy a recreational pursuit by himself. He has no obligations other than his own enjoyment of a full-length movie, which at the time was a new form of popular entertainment. Just as in the joyride illustration above, the public was likely amused by the image of an elderly person involved unexpectedly in a recreational pursuit that represented the latest technology such as an automobile or a motion picture.

Robert Robinson’s use of humor in his illustrations causes the viewer to empathize with the characters. The images of the elderly movie-goer and the older couple out for a joyride are two of a group of Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations created by Robinson from 1910 to 1925 that show older people as fun-loving and spirited. He also created cover illustrations for numerous general interest magazines as well as for Hearst’s Motor and the American Druggist. *

Robinson died at the age of 66. His New York Times obituary credits Robinson as “…one of the early cover specialists to make human interest the chief appeal.” **   

Robert Robinson created appealing images by focusing his artistic skill with his sense of humor. Laughing at others freed viewers to laugh at themselves, and to enjoy the perils as well as the excitement inherent in new-fangled technology. The gentle humor Robinson used to portray these elderly figures served to lift the spirits of people of all ages. 


* Q. David Bowers and Christine Bowers, Robert Robinson: American Illustrator (Vestal, NY: Vestal Press, 1981), 8.

** Robert B. Robinson, New York Times (1023-Current file);  Dec. 7, 1952g, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009),  88.


June 13, 2013

By June S. Knopf, D.Litt.