Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Alfred Mainzer Company and the Dressed Animal Art of Eugen Hartung, a Critical Analysis

From the 1940s through the 1960s, the Alfred Mainzer Company of Long Island City, NY published a series of linen and photochrome humorous cat postcards illustrated by Eugen Hartung (or Hurtong) (1897-1973), sometimes referred to as "Mainzer Cats". These postcards normally illustrate settings that are filled with action, often with a minor disaster just about to occur. While the dressed cats were by far the most popular and most plentiful cards, Hartung also painted other dressed animals - primarily mice, dogs, and hedgehogs. The cards of this series were first printed in a continuous tone by Max Kunzli of Switzerland. Typically, the Kunzli cats are featured in European settings and the cards are not as brightly colored as the American editions. Later cards were printed in halftone lithography in a variety of countries, including Belgium, Turkey, Thailand, and Spain. Alfred Mainzer, Inc., still exists, and recently published a new collectors' set of 126 dressed-animal postcards which includes 118 dressed cats, 7 dressed dogs, and 1 dressed mice postcards.

My own feelings about the dressed cat paintings of Eugen Hartung? Sorry to say, definitely mixed. On the one hand, they are beautifully composed and skillfully executed. He obviously possessed a massive amount of artistic talent. Great time and care were taken with every painting - the detail is a sheer delight, and is the thing most quoted as a favorite characteristic of Hartung's dressed cat paintings. And perhaps their best feature is their action, humour, and suspense - every painting without exception tells a story, which is key in creating a successful work of art. They are without a doubt a joy to behold. On the other hand, however, I can't look at his work without seeing paintings of PEOPLE. Being an artist myself, I sense he often worked from photos of people individually and/or in groups in action poses, and simply substituted cat heads for human heads. I think their human-style bodies are far too literal and an unsettling  - even unnerving - contrast to their animal heads. Unlike Hartung, most other "dressed animal" artists will keep the NATURAL SHAPE OF THE ANIMAL. A mole by Beatrix Potter may be wearing a vest and spats, but he will still be shaped like a mole. The effect is more believable (if a dressed animal can be believable!), more charming in its naturalness, and considerably less disconcerting than a body with human proportions and an animal's head. Quite honestly, Hartung's dressed cats kinda creep me out! I've posted two cards in which this seems, to me, to be especially evident. What do you think?

Would you like to see my own whimsical animal art? Please visit my online store, Adele's Cute Animal Art Shop, featuring a large variety of great products, gifts, and collectibles featuring my own cute animal illustrations.

1 comment:

  1. The animals that are basically animal heads and tails (if the character or species has one) attached to completely humanoid bodies are called furries or petting zoo people. The animals that keep their natural body shape, even when they are walking on two legs and wearing clothes are called funny animals.

    Here is my blogspot: http://cartoonanimals-nebbie.blogspot.com/