Al Hirschfeld was a truly original artist famous for his caricatures of celebrities. He depicted stage and screen personalities, capturing the magic of American theatre with his line drawings.
He was born in St. Louis in 1903. When he was eleven years old, an art teacher informed his mother, “There is nothing more we can teach him in St. Louis.” The family moved to New York and soon he was enrolled at the Art Student’s League. By the age of 17, Hirschfeld was an art director at Selznick Pictures. He held the position for about four years and then in 1924 moved to Paris.
In 1943, Hirschfeld married one of Europe’s most famous actresses, the late Dolly Haas. They were married for more than 50 years. His daughter Nina was born in 1945, and ever after Hirschfeld hid her name at least once in each of his drawings. The number of NINAs concealed is shown by an Arabic numeral to the right of his signature.
Hirschfeld was initially attracted to sculpture and painting but this gave way to his passion for pure line. His devotion to line stems from his respect for absolute simplicity. He is quoted as saying:
When I’m rushed I do a complicated drawing. When I have the time, I do a simple one.”
Over his 82-year career Hirschfeldâ€™s work appeared in nearly every major publication and on everything from book and record covers to postage stamps.
Although Hirschfeldâ€™s work is described as â€˜caricatureâ€™, he does not mock his subjects. He had tremendous affection for the people he drew and his affection is clearly communicated in his work. In fact, it is considered an honour to be drawn by Hirschfeld, and many celebrities own their Hirschfeldsâ€.
He died in 2003 at the age of 99, he was working up until shortly before his death