Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Gift of the Magi

On a rather roundabout trek to research illustrated carry out boxes from the Cheesecake Factory, I stumbled across this visual gem in an artist’s inspirational blog. This seemed more pertinent.

At first glance, Lisbeth Zwerger might have been an English illustrator in the 1800s. Fooled you! Zwerger, who was born in Vienna in 1954 and studied at the Applied Arts Academy there, has been illustrating steadily since the late 1970’s. She works primarily on classic children’s literature, illustrating such works as The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, The Bible, The Night Before Christmas, and several stories by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. She was the winner of the 1990 Hans Christian Andersen Award.

The chosen illustration is from O. Henry’s 1982 edition of The Gift of the Magi. If you’re not familiar with the story, a poor husband and wife sell their most valued possessions to get a Christmas present for the other. They then find out that the presents complement the possessions sold and are hence pointless. Oh, classic irony. But of course, love conquers all. The thing that I like about this illustration is that you definitely get a sense of the sparseness that accompanies being poor. The wife’s hair is the focal point as well as her treasured possession. In that sense, this is a wonderfully successful illustration.

Although Zwerger began working in a limited palette of pen-and-ink and watercolor, she has since expanded her mediums to include gouache and colored papers. I believe that this might be something to be desired, being a traditional illustrator in the digital age. It might partially be because of her age, but it’s still cool. I also think that what she does with retelling classic stories is important (so we don’t have an entire market full of Twilight). Learn your literary history. Don’t repeat its mistakes. The same goes for art.

For a comprehensive look at her works, look here.


  1. This is quite a beautiful illustration. I enjoy how you put it in context with showing us what it is similar to historically, and also how she brings that relation to the stories she illustrates.

  2. This is gorgeous. I like the point you bring up about traditional illustration. There's a lot of digital artists out there, and it seems that a lot of digital art looks a lot like other digital art. I don't think you could get exactly this effect from a program, and if you did it would still probably look like a digital illustration that's supposed to look like a traditional one. Digital and traditional each have their place, and I don't think either is "better" than the other. But especially if she's illustrating for classic literature, her style and methods are highly appropriate.