Russian-American painter and illustrator Constantin Alajalov would have been 114 years old today. He was a mural painter, a book illustrator and a cover illustrator for major magazines including Vanity Fair and Fortune. He is best known for his cartoon-style covers of New Yorker and Saturday Evening Post.
Alajalov created over 70 covers for the New Yorker; his first cover was in 1926. Nineteen years later, his first Saturday Evening Post cover debuted. Both the New Yorker and Saturday Evening Post required that their cover artists agree not to illustrate for both magazines at the same time. Alajalov is the only artist who ever illustrated for both at the same time. The details on why an exception was made for Alajalov is unknown.
Alajalov was born in Rostov, Russia. He was studying at the University of Petrograd (St. Petersburg) when his studies were interrupted by the Russian Revolution. To survive, he joined a group of artists who painted Communist propaganda posters and murals supporting the revolution. Alajalov later moved to Persia and served as a court painter for the Khan, until the Khan was killed by a political rival.
At age 23, the artist emigrated to America. He found a job painting murals at a restaurant owned by a Russian countess. Soon after, his artwork began to be noticed. Three years later, he was illustrating for the New Yorker. In 1928, Alajalov became an American citizen.
Alajalov was known for creating accurate-looking backgrounds for his paintings, as well as adding in details to a setting if he thought it would enhance a scene. The editors of the Saturday Evening Post noted that the artist would often draw doors or windows into scenes that were not originally there.
The artist's cover illustrations perfectly captured the whimsy and sentimentality of the American lifestyle in a thoughtful or sometimes humorous moment (at least for the reader, but not necessarily the subject.)
The expression of his subjects tells the reader exactly what the cover subject is thinking. He also customized the covers for the audience who would see them: there were big-city, sophisticated themes for the New Yorker and reminders of middle America for the Saturday Evening Post.
Alajalov lived to be 87.
All images are from the Walt Reed Illustration Archive.
Information about the artist is from:
Constantin Alajalov. Wikipedia, no date.
Denny, Diana. Classic Covers: Constantin Alajalov. The Saturday Evening Post.com, December 30, 2011.
Pittenger, Donald. Alajalov: Illustrator or Cartoonist? Art Contrarian, June 13, 2012.