Most famous for her children’s book Millions of Cats
, (Coward, McCann, 1928), which she both wrote and illustrated, Wanda Gág was a prolific graphic artist and illustrator. Constantly experimenting with progressive printmaking techniques, Gág introduced the double-page spread and revived hand-lettered text. Much like the artist herself, her watercolors, lithographs, and drawings are lively and spirited.
Gág’s family thrived on the arts—singing around the piano, drawing, reading art books, and writing with her six younger brothers and sisters were daily activities. Upon her father’s death when she was fifteen, Gág was burdened with financial responsibilities for which she turned to her creativity for help. She drew and wrote for magazines, designed and sold greeting cards, and offered art lessons. As her artistic achievements gained wider recognition, she earned prestigious scholarships and generous patrons that allowed her to attend art school. Academic regimen, however, was contrary to Gág’s preference to draw whatever and whenever she wanted, and she was considered a rebellious student. Her mother’s death in 1917 again put financial burdens on her shoulders, and she left school to take up commercial art to help support her younger siblings. When financial matters were stable, Gág rented a rural, secluded cottage in Connecticut and started painting and drawing with frenzy. Unrestrained by the formalities of academia and surrounded by nature, Gág developed a fresh new style, marked by her innovative use of sandpaper as a support for water and ink washes to heighten texture and alter light perception.
Gág brought her new portfolio to Cal Zigrosser of the Weyhe Gallery in New York and in 1926 had her first solo exhibition. Building on her success, Gág purchased a farm in New Jersey where the natural, primitive environment was the source of inspiration for her sketchbooks and prints. Her short, contoured strokes and dramatic use of light and shadow allowed her subjects, and the negative space around them, to vibrate with an inherent energy.
In the 1930s, Gág feverishly began her second career as a writer. She illustrated and wrote children’s stories, translated folktales, and wrote her autobiography, Growing Pains
, 1940. The success of her children’s books allowed her to sustain long periods of drawing and painting at her farm. During Gág’s last years, as her health deteriorated, she introduced color into her artistic repertoire, complementing her mastery of black-and-white illustration.
The Art Students League of New York, New York, NY, USA (1917-1918)
Minneapolis School of Art, Minneapolis, MN, USA (1914-1917)
St. Paul School of Art, St. Paul, MN, USA (1913-1914)
daughter of Anton Gág
friend of Lucile Lundquist Blanch
friend Rockwell Kent
friend of Adolf Dehn
friend of Alfred Stieglitz
friend of Arnold Blanch
friend of Georgia O'Keeffe
student of Frank Vincent Du Mond
student of John Sloan
student of Kenneth Hayes Miller
student of Robert Henri
J and ER Pennell Purchase Prize, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, USA (1944)
Purchase Prize, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA (1942)