Coming Attractions: Jazz Age Illustration

The countdown has begun. In October (this October), Jazz Age Illustration will (finally) open at DelArt. I’ve been working on this exhibition since 2019, and I can’t wait to share it with you all. Jazz Age Illustration was inspired by the Museum’s deep collection of American illustration from the 1920s and 1930s. It will feature many works (including over 30 recent acquisitions) that are rarely exhibited, alongside exciting loans from museums, libraries, and private collections. A handful of pictures in the show are regularly on view, and the exhibition will provide a new perspective on these favorites, like Gayle Hoskins’ large oil painting captioned: You can’t leave her here to suffer. Whether you want to or not, you’ll have to do it.

Published in Woman’s Home Companion in 1925, this illustration for a tale titled “Roads of Doubt” has long been one of my favorites, in large part because of its sartorial storytelling. I love her glamorous dress and fur coat and the way the pointed toes of her dainty shoes are framed by the slushy snow. Her bobbed red hair and obvious makeup mark her as a modern woman. But the menswear is what really speaks to the narrative here: the city slicker in his long, fur-collared coat, white silk scarf, and dress shoes faces off against the capable outdoorsman who wears rugged trousers tucked into knee-high boots and all-brown ensemble that links him to the land. A love triangle is emerging, and her choices are coming into focus. Modern romance stories like “Roads of Doubt” were popular in the mass-market magazines read by millions of Americans in the Jazz Age.

Raised in Denver, Colorado, Hoskins studied with Howard Pyle and became a specialist in Western subjects. Early in the 20th century, he illustrated tales of adventure and historical subjects, but as markets shifted, he took on more modern stories. Set in the Rocky Mountains, this assignment made use of his knowledge of the Western landscape but required other skills. Hoskins photographed and sketched automobiles and turned his attention to contemporary fashion to better capture the modern world that engaged American readers in the 1920s.

This theatrical composition speaks to several themes in Jazz Age Illustration from the legacy of Howard Pyle to the moral panic around youth fashion and cosmopolitan culture. I look forward to sharing some of the many stories of Jazz Age Illustration with you this year.

Heather Campbell Coyle
Curator of American Art

Image: You can’t leave her here to suffer. Whether you want to or not, you’ll have to do it, for “Roads of Doubt,” by William MacLeon Raine, in Woman’s Home Companion, February 1925. Gayle Porter Hoskins (1887–1962). Oil on canvas, 26 x 36 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Gayle and Alene Hoskins Endowment Fund, 1979.