HILARY KNIGHT/ Graydon Carter
Like many people my age, I first learned of Eloise not too long after she was created by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight. I grew up in Canada’s capital, a city swaddled in post-Edwardian probity and gloom. As much as hockey was a major preoccupation with kids my age, like many of my friends, I was also a big reader, and Eloise was something of a revelation. It was not only a window into a shimmering modern city I knew the name of but didn’t know much about, it also opened my innocent eyes to the notion that there must be people who didn’t just stay at fancy hotels, but who lived in them.
I’ve since had five children and so I’ve serially read all of Eloise’s adventures set not only in New York, but in Paris and in Moscow, and at Christmas. Some of my kids loved the books. Some didn’t. Eloise herself can grate after multiple readings. Don’t get me started on the turtle.
Hilary Knight’s drawings however, electrified my kids—as they did me. Great children’s art is often great art, period. In the best situations it holds its own with the author’s work. It’s almost impossible to think of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland without also visualizing John Tenniel’s black and white drawings, or A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh without thinking of Ernest Shepard’s. In Roald Dahl’s books, the stories go hand in hand with Quentin Blake’s gloriously scratchy illustrations. With the Eloise books, I think it can fairly be said that Hilary’s drawings outrank the actual text.
I had always assumed that Hilary was a woman. And when I finally got to New York in the 1970s I just assumed that she was dead. Like many beliefs back then—that my hairline would never recede or that my waistline would never expand—I was wrong on both counts. Hilary was not only not a she, he was very much alive.
I vowed that when I came to Vanity Fair I would use him to illustrate some of our more off-beat stories. And use him we did, everything from fashion shows to dog shows and a lot in between. Each time his drawings came in we gathered in the art department to marvel at his eye and his line. This fall, my old Vanity Fair colleague Cullen Murphy and I convened a lunch at the Monkey Bar with some of the greatest living illustrator/artists. Ed Sorel (the dean of American illustrators) was there, as were Jim McMullan (who for decades has done the posters for Lincoln Center Theater), David Downton (perhaps the greatest fashion illustrator ever), and Barry Blitt Hilary Knight/Graydon Carter (The New Yorker’s cover star). Robert McGinnis, who did those early (and best) James Bond posters was due to come by but got held up.
Hilary Knight with the first the first Eloise Portrait, Kay Thompson dress ,chair and dolls. Photo © Sorabah Gupta
Photo © Jonathan Becker
Hilary was there too, looking much as he did when I first met him 25 years ago. He was a few days shy of his 92nd birthday and I will say that he still has more marbles up there than the man writing this sentence does. He was animated and thrilled that his drawing hand was as good, if not better than it had ever been. I’ve seen some of his most recent work and it’s hard to disagree. David Downton is artist in residence at Claridge’s in London. If I owned the Plaza Hotel I’d install Hilary as my own artist in residence. He’s the reason most of us first heard of the hotel and that saucy little girl who lived there. He could even bring his pet turtle.
Please enjoy this interview as
Hilary talks about Mystery surrounding the
Original Palace Hotel Portrait of Eloise
Preview Hilary Knight's World from Bonham's Catalog
You can download the Bonham's Catalog, Fine Books and Manuscripts including The World of Hilary Knight here.
Prior to December 5, 2018 you can review items offered and bid on available lots at the Bonham's website here.
Browse items from the auction in the gallery below. Images courtesy of Bonham's, New York, NY.