Members of the ARLIS/NA Artist Files SIG usually work with files about individual artists, but at the New York Public Library’s Picture Collection, artist file material is handled a little differently. Among the array of topics represented in the kaleidoscope of images in the Picture Collection, filed after “Artillery — Naval,” are several artist-related subjects, including “Artists,” “Artists — Cartoons,” and “Artists — Materials.” These files contain a surprising variety of pictures taken from all kinds of sources that feature artists doing artist stuff: painting, drawing, sculpting, etc. There are images from books about artists, magazines featuring people making art, newspaper comic strips, and postcards collected together to present the complex picture of what it looks like to be an artist.

Selection of pictures found in the subject file on “Artists.” New York Public Library Picture Collection

One gem among these pictures is a comic from the July 25, 1857 issue of Punch; or, The London Charivari captioned, “What an Artist has to Put Up With. ‘O? look’ee ‘ere, Jane, ‘ere’s one of the Harcobats a-goin’ to do the ladder-trick!’” The wood engraving exemplifies the misunderstood life of the artist, a favorite theme of the illustrators of Punch. The illustration is unsigned, but was possibly drawn by Charles Keene or John Tenniel, who were both active contributors to Punch at the time.

“WHAT AN ARTIST HAS TO PUT UP WITH.” Cartoon published in Punch, July 25, 1857. New York Public Library Picture Collection
Lander Crayon Portraits advertisement, 1898. New York Public Library Picture Collection

An advertisement from 1898 similarly highlights the zany creativity required by artists for portraiture. We have it filed in our Advertising subject heading, but Mr. Lander and his crayon portraits would be an ideal addition to an artist file as well.

Anyone can download the entire list of Picture Collection Subject Headings.