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Portrait of a Post cover artist.

PORTRAIT OF A POST COVER ARTIST

Constantin Alajalov came onto The Saturday Evening Post like a breath of fresh air. The Post, with a pedigree dating back to Benjamin Franklin, had long been dependable for its pointed look at the foibles of the human scene. But this immigrant upstart, with his eager brush and an unbiased eye on our society, would produce a series of covers that were to give a nation of readers a new and delightfully humorous picture of themselves.

In Alajalov's first cover for the Post, Oct. 6, 1945, the scene is of soldiers dancing in loving-embrace with their dates. The artist, however, concentrates on a soldier sitting at a table, arrogantly boring his girl with talk of battle strategy.

Constantin Alajalov's mischievous if cartoonish approach to the frailties of that time would become a popular style. People loved the way Alajalov's keen eye discerned the delicate ironies that fill our daily lives. They especially appreciated his way of illuminating the gap that existed between our dreams and our realities, the differences between the way we think of ourselves and the way we are perceived by others. It was said of Alajalov that, "As a satirist he paints, quite kindly, what in words would be too cruel to say. As an artist in his genre, what he really draws are conclusions." From 1945 to 1962, Constantin Alajalov illustrated 73 covers for The Saturday Evening Post.

Alajalov first began sketching at the age of five in the small Russian town of Rostov on the Don, where he was born Nov. 18, 1900 to a comparatively well-off Czarist bourgeois family. His early schooling made him well-versed in literature and fluent in French, English, German, and Italian, but art remained his true passion.

To encourage his endeavors and broaden his understanding, Alajalov's mother supplemented his education by taking him to art exhibitions and museums. By the age of 15, he had enrolled in the University of Petrograd, where he pursued his love of literature and art. Unfortunately, his studies there were terminated by the Russian Revolution.

Alajalov then joined a government-sponsored art group and eked out a living from commissions painting murals on the walls of government buildings and workman's clubs. But when the political scene became too volatile for his sensitive nature, he decided to abandon his homeland and seek a new life in Costantinople, now known as Istanbul.

Here he painted signs and did murals on the walls of restaurants in exchange for meals. After turning out two life-size portraits of Georges Carpenter and Jack Dempsey for a fight film, he landed a job doing posters for a local movie house. His portraits of Georges Carpenter and Jack Dempsey for a fight film, he landed a job doing posters for a local movie house. His portraits stopped traffic and helped fill the theater.

Within two years Alajalov had saved enough money for passage to America, arriving in New York in January 1923. His lean days here were shortened considerably by the chance meeting of a boyhood friend who told him of a restaurant about to be opened by a Russian countess. Alajalov quickly convinced the countess that he was the right one to decorate the walls. His murals were so successful that he began getting commissions from other restaurant owners as well as from hotels and wealthy art patrons who wanted Alajalov's creations brightening the rooms of their lavish homes.

This type of work was, of course, far from magazine illustration. This new career began when a friend encouraged Alajalov to submit a selection of his drawings to The New Yorker. To his surprise they were accepted, and his first cover appeared on the magazine's September 1926 issue.

Though readers would be attracted to The New Yorker by its Alajalov covers for the next 20 years, his illustrations also decorated the pages of other popular periodicals such as Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Town and Country. In addition he illustrated many widely read books. Among them were George Gershwin's Song Book, 1932; Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, by Cornelia Otis Skinner, 1942; Alice Duer Miller's Cinderella, 1943; and a collection of Alajalov's work, titled Conversation Pieces, with text by Janet Flanner.

The now highly regarded illustrator's relationship with The Saturday Evening Post began when Ben Hibbs replaced Wesley Stout as managing editor. Hibbs' many changes were to include the first alteration of the Post logo in nearly 50 years, shorter stories, more pictures, and more cartoons. Among the reader-friendly additions that survive today are the "Map Game," "You Be The Judge," "Perfect Squelch," and "Post Scripts." Stevan Dohanos, John Atherton, John Falter, and George Hughes, as well as Alajalov, were the well-known names among Hibbs' stable of cover artists.

Although Alajalov's work appealed to men and women alike, the artist proved to be a special champion of the ladies. His insight into their plight and position in American society was especially sharp. He was ahead of his time in realizing that the skills and abilities of the "weaker sex" were by no means weak. Other subjects that inspired his covers were derived from his favorite pastimes: travel, fishing, golf, and museum hopping.

In addition to his light-hearted illustrations, Alajalov also displayed considerable talent in more serious painting. Among his numerous portraits were those of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. He also found time to teach and lecture at two New York art schools for many years.

Alajalov's final cover for the Post, Dec. 1, 1962, featuring a woman fretting over her play of cards in a late night game of bridge, was the last humorous illustrated cover on the magazine until it was revived in the early '70s.

Unknown at the time, this sad event ended a 60-year tradition of making light of the American public's often illogical psyche.

Constantin Alajalov died Oct. 24, 1987, at his home in Amenic, New York. Many of his Post cover paintings can be viewed at The American Illustrators Hall of Fame in Indianapolis.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Constantin Alajalov
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good; Pettinga, Steve
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:illustration
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Words:1003
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