Illustration and Imagination:
W.H.D. Koerner’s Western Paintings

W.H.D. Koerner

Exhibition Dates: May 16 – September 14, 2014

A student of Howard Pyle and part of the fabled Brandywine School, W.H.D. Koerner created numerous memorable Western scenes for the Saturday Evening Post and other publications in the 1920s and 1930s. Drawn from the Koerner estate and the Rockwell collection, this exhibition features about 20 of Koerner’s original paintings and drawings, which were the basis for the Post illustrations. Created at a time of nostalgic yearning for a simpler time, Koerner’s inventive scenes retain a riveting sense of immediacy, action, and narrative force rarely equaled among the great illustrators of the day.

Much like television and movies today, the stories in these magazines offered action and adventure set in distant times and faraway lands – an escape from everyday life. Artists like W.H.D. Koerner, Norman Rockwell, and N.C. Wyeth were sought after by editors in New York and Philadelphia to add an element of visual storytelling to the written word. Illustrators used their imagination and artistic training to give visual form to popular stories of adventure, romance, and drama.

The Western is a true American original, and since the 1880s, stories about the soldiers, fur traders, trappers, cowboys and Indian of the West that Was provided endless material for writer like Theodore Roosevelt, Owen Wister, and Zane Grey. Their stories, which were often serialized before being made into books, in turn provided a near endless demand for illustrations. From Buffalo Bill’s live shows, to the first illustrated stories, to the explosion of dime novels, and even to early Hollywood portrayals, a wealth of visual material formed a baseline for western illustration long before Koerner started in on the subject in earnest in the 1920s. Even so, he would provide a unique and important addition to the Western genre.

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