Turn Back the Pages: Al Frueh


Al Frueh (pronounced “Free”) was born in Lima, Ohio in 1880 and started his career as a cartoonist after being hired by the St. Louis-Dispatch (1904-1908) in its art department.  After a trip to Europe in 1909, he worked for the New York World and then, in 1925 for the very first issue of the New Yorker Magazine.

For the second issue (February 28th, 1925) he illustrated an image of two policemen that appeared on the cover.


His relationship with the New Yorker proved to be fruitful and continued for the next 37 years. During that time, he contributed four hundred and seventy theatre caricatures and some four hundred other illustrations and cartoons for the magazine.

In the book “Frueh on the Theater” Maxwell Silverman has this to say about Frueh’s working process:

“He liked to actually attend a performance, sitting in the eighth row on the side so he could watch the actors as they made their entrances and moved about the stage. “My eyes are like opera glasses,” Frueh said; “I like to focus them.” In the darkened theatre he would cover small squares of yellow paper with representations of the particular pose or anatomical features of a player. At home he would do pencil sketches on scraps of paper, the backs of completed drawings, or whatever odd or end was handy. Often he would return to the theatre to check his memory, before working out at his drawing board the final caricatures, which he would then trace for transferal to white art board: these final pictures could vary in dimensions from 12 by 20 to 23 by 30 inches”


Let’s take a look at a photo of Katharine Cornell in the William Shakespeare play “Antony and Cleopatra” next to a drawing by Frueh. As Silverman points out: “The photograph catches Katharine Cornell posing. The drawing catches her acting.”


I agree with Silverman’s assessment of Freuh’s caricatures and it’s one thing I like about them; they’re playful and lively. Frueh works in a way that isn’t tied down to reality, even though he’s drawing real people, and he’s not afraid to take risks. There are times when a figure is nothing more than a few simple shapes or barely drawn at all. One example that illustrates this is a piece he did of Louise Calhern and Judith Anderson for the play Cobra. Calhern is drawn using angles and shapes while Anderson is conveyed using a series of fluid lines that never close up. It gives the viewer a variety between the two of them.


In this illustration for the play “Wonderful Town” Frueh isn’t concerned with a realistic sense of space and depicts the story through one main figure (Edith Adams) and a series of small figures in three corners of the composition.


Playful is the best word I can use to describe his artwork, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t work hard when creating them. As Silverman says in his article, Frueh did a number of sketches before he decided on one that he’d take to a final. As with most art I’m sure the simplicity in them wasn’t easy to achieve.

Below is a selection of illustrations from the theatre book. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I do.







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Categories: Illustration History, Illustrators, New Illustration

Author:Daniel Zalkus

Daniel Zalkus is an Illustrator and graduate of the School of Visual Arts in NYC. You can see more of his work at: danielzalkus.com

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One Comment on “Turn Back the Pages: Al Frueh”

  1. View2U
    July 2, 2019 at 4:53 pm #

    <3 this


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