ELOISE AND MORE: THE LIFE AND ART OF HILARY KNIGHT
STOCKBRIDGE, MA—Norman Rockwell Museum (NRM) is pleased to announce their fall/winter exhibition Eloise and More: The Life and Art of Hilary Knight, featuring iconic illustrations by 95-year-old artist Hilary Knight. This is the most comprehensive exhibition on the career of one of the most published and beloved illustrators of the last seven decades. Best known for his work in the Eloise picture book series by Kay Thompson, many of Knight’s illustrations of the spirited six-year-old girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel are included, together with a curated selection from his extensive portfolio of published and personal work.
This retrospective exhibition presents the full range of the artist’s accomplishments with more than 140 artworks and objects created by Knight, and a rare selection of paintings and drawings by his accomplished and artistic parents, Katharine Sturges Dodge and Clayton Knight. Much of the work on view has rarely been seen, including original advertisements, movie posters, fashion designs, storyboards, book dummies, and a 1930 painting by Knight’s mother, Portrait of a Young Girl, which inspired Knight’s Eloise more than 20 years later, Eloise “trial” drawings, sketches for Eloise-themed rooms at the Plaza, product merchandise designs, and a once-stolen Eloise portrait from the Plaza Hotel.
The exhibition will also feature original illustrations from many other picture books by the artist, as well as Drawn from Life, an illustrated memoir. A curated selection of drawings Knight made for magazines and advertisements over the last 70 years will be on view including Broadway posters, fashion illustration, and home design. Rarely seen work for other authors, unpublished books and personal photographs offer viewers insight into the artist’s life, inspiration, and creative process.
Hilary Knight described his thoughts on his largest exhibition at Norman Rockwell Museum: “First of all, I am deeply honored,” said Knight. “I am very much a person whose talents and style come directly from my parents Clayton Knight and Katharine Sturges. I would add my Art Students League teacher Reginald Marsh. Thank you!”
Additionally, of his influences, Knight reflected that “the illustrations we first see remain in our brain... probably for our lifetime. Mine were from the pen of England’s Ernest H. Sheppard, …his effortless drawings gave the viewer Christopher Robin & his companions, Pooh Bear, Tigger, and the one who Eloise most admired—Piglet.”
Don Bacigalupi, exhibition advisor and former museum director, describes Knight’s style — “It takes a mere moment of exposure to Hilary Knight’s works to understand his genius. He is a consummate storyteller and a master of character. His line has the confidence of Ingres and the expression of Matisse. His color palettes are exuberant and subtle, dazzling and refined. His compositions sometimes rival Rube Goldberg’s in their complexity and stunning balance… and Knight’s sense of humor—in person and in his art—is both wry and dazzling.”
“We are honored to have the opportunity to share Hilary Knight’s vibrant artworks reflecting the breadth of his exceptional career with visitors to the Norman Rockwell Museum,” said Chief
Curator Stephanie Haboush Plunkett. “Exhibition Curator Jesse Kowalski and I have marveled at the joy and originality reflected in his art and vision, no matter the subject or assignment at hand. His artworks and stories bring out the inner child in us all.”
Artist Hilary Knight plans to be in Stockbridge for opening weekend events; updated information will be posted on the Museum’s website- NRM.org.
This exhibition has been sponsored in part by the Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation.
Born in 1926, Hilary Knight is a prolific artist whose works range from children’s books to greeting cards, magazine illustrations, and theater and film posters. He is best known for his illustrations for the popular Eloise picture book series, which he created with author Kay Thompson.
Born to artists Clayton Knight and Katharine Sturges, artist and illustrator Hilary Knight was always certain of his career. His father was an aviator in WWII, serving as an artist/correspondent. His mother was an artist and writer, who also created illustrations for Harper’s Bazaar in the 1920’s. Knight’s parents both influenced him, and he would often gain inspiration from watching them work. He was especially interested in his mother’s work, most notably her sketchbooks from her studies in Japan in 1917. Knight was also influenced by British artists such as Ernest Shepard — illustrator of Winnie-the-Pooh — and Edmund Dulac, which was sheer fantasy to Knight.
When he was six, the family moved to Manhattan, not far from the Plaza Hotel, where he currently maintains an apartment that doubles as a studio and library. Knight attended the Art Students League of New York, where he studied under Reginald Marsh, an American painter most known for his depictions of life in New York City in the ‘20s and ‘30s. His first published work appeared in a 1952 issue of Mademoiselle, soon followed by House and Garden, Gourmet, and Good Housekeeping.
Throughout his career, Knight has always been interested in fashion, theater, and set design. While in the Navy during World War II, he discovered the Brazilian performer, Carmen Miranda, and her vibrant performance sparked his engagement in the field. After the war, Knight designed sets under theater director and producer George Abbott. He pursued work in fashion and costume design, going on to work with noted members of the fashion world including Isabella Blow, Norman Norell, and Tommy Hilfiger. Over the years, Knight has amassed a sizeable collection of costume, fashion, and set designs created throughout his career, which were heavily inspired by the performing arts.
Knight is perhaps best known for his work on the Eloise books, originally written by singer, actress, and author Kay Thompson. He met Thompson through a former neighbor, D.D. Ryan, who at the time was working as an editor at Harper’s Bazaar. Knight credits Ryan as being the one who gave birth to Eloise. Thompson had a character she would enact for friends, and Ryan urged her to meet with Knight to bring her character to life. The two met, and after looking over notes and drawings, they decided to create a book together. The first book, Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown-Ups, was published in 1955 and became a bestseller the following year. The two then went on to publish Eloise in Paris (1957), Eloise at Christmastime (1958), and Eloise in Moscow (1959).
However, their relationship became strained during the production of their fifth book, Eloise Takes a Bawth. Thompson wished to move on from the project, and as a result, Knight was unable to continue drawing the beloved six-year-old. Thompson died in 1998, and despite their differences, Knight believes they had a good relationship.
In 2002, Knight eventually obtained rights to produce Eloise Takes a Bawth. His illustration career continued to move forward -- along with costume and set designs, Knight also created numerous posters for film and theater productions. In 1971, he created a poster for the new 1925 revival of No, No, Nanette which featured Ruby Keebler, Jack Gilford, and Helen Gallagher. Two years later, he worked on posters for the musical Irene, starring Debbie Reynolds in her Broadway debut, George S. Irving, and Patsy Kelly.
Knight has illustrated over 50 books, nine of which he also wrote. One of his books, Hilary Knight: Drawn from Life, traces his life from childhood to living as an artist in Manhattan, bringing Eloise to fruition, and discussing his life and work in the present day. His other books include the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series by Betty MacDonald, I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken, and Where’s Wallace? which he wrote and illustrated.
At the beginning of 2015, Knight appeared in an HBO documentary titled It’s Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise, collaborating with actress, director, and producer Lena Dunham and director Matt Wolf. The documentary explored Knight’s life and creativity, as well as his relationship with his most famous creation. Knight was thrilled to be working on the project, as he had no experience in filmmaking. The piece features some of his own footage, as well as film shot by his father when they lived in Roslyn, New York. Later that same year, The 365 Days of Eloise: My Book of Holidays chronicled the list of dates and holidays that Eloise celebrated.
In 2017, Knight took part in two exhibitions in New York. Hilary Knight’s Stage Struck World was on view from April to October at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Eloise at the Museum, organized by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, was on view at the New-York Historical Society from June to October, exploring the creativity and creation of the rowdy six-year-old, Eloise.
OPENING WEEKEND FAMILY DAYS
Eloise & More: The Art of Hilary Knight
Saturday, November 12, 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday, November 13, 10 am – 5 pm
The opening weekend of the new exhibition Eloise & More: The Art of Hilary Knight kicks off with activities for children of all ages including story-time and artmaking. Curator talks will be available on Saturday only. A ‘Meet the Artist’ program with Hilary Knight will soon be announced, pending travel ability; please check NRM.org for details, or subscribe to enews at NRM.org/email. Free with museum admission; free for kids & teens and members. Advance tickets recommended at NRM.org.
DECEMBER VACATION WEEK December School Vacation Week at Norman Rockwell Museum
Monday – Friday, December 26 – 30, 10 am – 4 pm
“Being bored is not allowed” according to Eloise; NRM fulfills her wish with a fun week of beloved stories and art featured in the Eloise books, and on view in our featured exhibition Eloise & More: The Life and Art of Hilary Knight. Explore the art on view and enjoy readings from the artist’s illustrated books, including Eloise, The Owl & The Pussycat, among others, scheduled throughout the week - plus artmaking activities. Find your favorite books in the Museum store, signed by the artist! See NRM.org/events for details.
Included with admission, free for kids & teens, and Members. Advance admission tickets at NRM.org
By special arrangement with The Plaza and Hilary Knight; exclusive Eloise art prints will be available in the Museum Store, and online at Store.NRM.org., as well as numerous favorite books.
Hilary Knight (b. 1926) Portrait of Eloise, 2021. © Hilary Knight. All Rights Reserved.
Poster concept art for the Broadway musical Brigadoon, 1980. Collection of the artist; © Hilary Knight. All Rights Reserved.
Mimosa & Rose Female Fashion Figure, 1960s Collection of the artist. © Hilary Knight. All Rights Reserved.
Photograph: Hilary Knight in his 51st Street Studio, New York, 1960. Photographer unknown. Collection of the artist; © Hilary Knight. All Rights Reserved.
Design sketch of Eloise poses for The Plaza Hotel, detail, 1999. Collection of the artist. © Hilary Knight. All Rights Reserved.
Title page illustration for for Hilary Knight’s The Owl and the Pussycat, 1983. Collection of the artist. © Hilary Knight. All Rights Reserved.
ABOUT NORMAN ROCKWELL MUSEUM
The Norman Rockwell Museum illuminates the power of American illustration art to reflect and shape society, and advances the enduring values of kindness, respect, and social equity portrayed by Norman Rockwell. The Museum holds the world’s largest and most significant collection of art and archival materials relating to Rockwell’s life and work, while also preserving, interpreting, and exhibiting a growing collection of art by other American illustrators throughout history. The Museum engages diverse audiences through onsite and traveling exhibitions, as well as publications, arts and humanities programs, including the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies, and comprehensive online resources.
NRM is open year-round, six days a week; closed Wednesdays. Admission is charged, Free for Kids & Teens. For details, visit the Museum online at www.NRM.org.