I apologize again for my tantrums – Mr. Bessie and Mr. Bradley have all the understanding for your position – and they are not to be blamed. I hope to hear from you soon. If you agree with my modest changes cable me and I’ll send you drawings, title pages, etc. I also thank you for the measured and kind letter you sent me…”
Portrait of Saul Steinberg by Inge Morath
While studying architecture in Italy, Steinberg began his career as a cartoonist, contributing to European publications and publishing his first New Yorker drawing in 1941 while waiting for a visa to enter the U.S. His subsequent contribution to The New Yorker was immense and included hundreds of drawings, 85 covers executed in an unmistakable style that has since become synonymous with the publication. Although Steinberg is best known for his magazine illustration and his nearly sixty year association with The New Yorker, he worked in a variety of media, including collage and murals.
In 1957, Steinberg was invited to create a mural in the American Pavilion for the 1958 Brussels Expo – the first world’s fair since 1937. His montage, entitled The Americans, used “brown-paper cutouts, wallpaper fragments, handmade paper, newspaper comics, and other pieces in various shapes and hues, [to create] a stunning, inventive panorama of America, from small-town Main Street to big-city cocktail party. Brimming with visual puns, semi-abstractions, distorted figures, and modernist white space, The Americans represented Steinberg’s effort at cultural diplomacy,” (“America, the Great Colossal Collage: Saul Steinberg’s Forgotten Masterpiece,” Artnews.com, Cembalest). Although the pavilion itself was lauded by critics, Steinberg’s “nuanced sensibility didn’t mesh with the populist idea of great American art at that moment, and the mural didn’t make much of a splash. Some reviewers took potshots at The Americans; most ignored it completely… Steinberg’s art was left out of the Official United States Guidebook,” (ibid.).
However, the mural undoubtedly contributed to Robert Delpire’s decision to commission Steinberg to illustrate the cover of Robert Frank’s seminal photography book Les Americains, published in France in 1958. The American edition, which appeared the following year, did not include Steinberg’s artwork.
Steinberg’s letter mentions American publisher Simon Michael Bessie (1916-2008) who, in 1959, left Harper & Brothers publishing to found Atheneum Publishers.
Our letter regards Delpire’s plan to publish Steinberg’s Brussels murals in book form, but which he never did. In excellent condition. Content letters of Steinberg are uncommon.