Brewer’s submission for the Life cover is wonderfully dark in its composition: a silhouetted vision of the statue as seen standing out against the dark night sky; its lighted torch a star-like beacon in the gloom. The magazine’s publisher or art editor transformed the shadowy sky into a lighter brighter image, making the dark statue less mysterious and less dramatic. In trading the dark coloration of the sky for a rosy hue the whole of the composition shifts from compelling to rather bland in my opinion. Even the green of the harbor water was transformed till in the printed form it is lost in the dark murk below Bedlowes Island where the monument was installed in 1886.
As we have seen again and again, most illustrators must bow to a publisher’s changes. Brewer went on to paint other images of the Statue of Liberty, one where she is seen rising and spread her light over the skyline of New York city as part of a series of calendar subject he created for the Jensen Printing Company of Minneapolis.**
While Brewer’s Life magazine cover was hardly the first time the statue was illustrated, it may indeed have been the first time it served as the focal point of a popular magazine cover. Within a decade, the French caricaturist Georges Goursat (1863-1934), popularly known as S. E. M., would produce one of the most famous of the European created World War I posters, Pour la liberté du monde, c. 1918, that was eerily similar to Brewer’s vision. By placing the silhouette of the Statue of Liberty at the edge of the water over the horizon, S.E.M. reminded America that the war’s allied defense was for ‘the liberty of the whole world’ and not just western Europe.
The Saturday Evening Post ran a J. C. Leyendecker designed cover featuring The Statue of Liberty against a dark background with art nouveau waves in the foreground to celebrate Independence Day in 1934.
Filmmaker Franklin J. Schaffner would use a decrepit, partially buried variant of the statue to frame the tragedy the protagonist astronaut Taylor, played by Charlton Heston, discovers at the ending of The Planet of the Apes, 1968.
And contemporary illustrator Istvan Banyai (b. 1949) turned the classical costuming of Lady Liberty on its head and called it Muslim Democracy in order to make a point about a potential future shift in territorial control of planet earth for a 2007 cover for The Atlantic. Notice how Banyai has placed an American flag on the crescent of the visible moon to indicate where the United States may have its future.
**This illustration can be seen in a photograph of Brewer in his studio in the article by Patricia Condon Johnston, “Edward Brewer: Illustrator and Portrait Painter” in Minnesota Profiles (Spring 1980): 2.
January 14, 2010
By Joyce K. Schiller, Curator, Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies
Norman Rockwell Museum