"Maurice Sendak signing the ""Faithful Nutcracker"" lithograph at Tyler Graphics Ltd., Bedford Village, New York, 1984
Gift of Kenneth Tyler 2002
Photographer: Kenneth Tyler"
Maurice Sendak is an artist and author, acclaimed for his inventive children’s books but also renowned for his illustrations and collaborations with authors ranging from Ogden Nash and Isaak Bashevis Singer to Tony Kushner. Sendak’s art extends beyond his versatile draftsmanship and writing. He has also designed sets and costumes for operas, ballets, and other performances. In addition, he has produced animated audio–visual series and limited edition prints.
Sendak gained international acclaim with the publication of Where The Wild Things Are in 1963, a ground–breaking story appealing to all age groups, and now a classic in illustrated literature. Much like the book’s title, both text and imagery break from conventions, introducing a fantasy world of amazing richness. In his own words, Sendak endows his protagonists with wisdom and strength and surrounds them ‘with a minefield of problems.’ He equips ‘his children’ with ‘nerves and curiosity’ to devour the world with their eyes and imagination. Sendak created a new paradigm with Where The Wild Things Are, which won him the Caldecott Book Medal in 1964.
Having authored and illustrated over 80 books during his nearly seven decades of work, Sendak has regularly been honored with awards including the international Hans Christian Andersen Medal (presented to him in 1970), the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (1983) from the American Library Association, the National Medal of the Arts (awarded to him by President Clinton in 1996), a Library of Congress ‘Living Legend’ medal (2000), and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for Literature (2003). A museum collection of his original drawings and manuscripts was established in 2003 in The Maurice Sendak Building at The Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. Currently, the collection holds over 7,000 drawings and other works, providing the largest representation of Sendak’s prolific output. This museum continually exhibits his work and personal collections.
In 2003, Sendak’s collaborations with Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Tony Kushner, resulted in two major publications and an opera. First their joint book Brundibar and opera were released and performed, with Sendak illustrating the book and designing the sets and costumes for the opera.
As with many earlier works, Brundibar addresses dark subjects in Sendak’s colorful, poignant, and inimitable poetic twist. Brundibar, originally written by Czech composer Hans Krása, is a children’s opera that was written and performed during World War II at Terezin concentration camp.
Examining this history and providing an in–depth study of Sendak’s life and work since 1980, Kushner’s biography on the artist, The Art of Maurice Sendak, 1980 to the Present, was also published in 2003. 22 years earlier, author Selma Lanes wrote The Art of Maurice Sendak, covering his family history and artistic development up to 1980.
In 2005, The Jewish Museum in New York City held the largest and most comprehensive retrospective on the artist’s work to date featuring drawings, prints, theatrical costumes and sets and live performances of Brundibar, as well as screenings of Last Dance and other performances Sendak was involved with that have been preserved on film. Like Brundibar, Where The Wild Things Are was made into an opera, and a film is currently being produced in Sydney, Australia. This cinematic endeavor is an offshoot of the national children’s theatre Sendak founded in 1990, called the Night Kitchen Theatre.
Sendak’s collaborations with Kenneth Tyler began in the 1970s, while he was working on sets and costumes for Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Sendak’s involvement with these operas inspired him in the creation of numerous sketches, drawings, and watercolors, many that were reproduced in his book Nutcracker and several that were printed at Tyler Graphics, employing lithography and intaglio processes. Tyler and Sendak collaborated on these prints and others in the 1970s, the 1980s and in 2002. Sendak, who has been given the accolade ‘the Picasso of children’s books’ proved to be, like Picasso, enamored and highly skillful with printmaking. Sendak’s love of drawing and his joy in the collaborative process resulted numerous states for each image.
Circumstances prevented any of these editions from being published, with the exception of the 1984 lithograph, Faithful Nutcracker. The inventory of rare proofs was signed in 2002, and the prints apportioned to the artist, to the National Gallery of Australia’s Kenneth Tyler Print Collection, and to Kenneth Tyler himself for his personal collection. Sendak hand–watercoloured some of the black and white intaglios, particularly Wild Thing and Ida. As a colourist, his painting on the prints adds another dimension. Nonetheless, these graphic works are equally powerful in their black and white original form, given the strength of Sendak’s masterful drawing and his etched lines and washes.
Sendak’s description of Clara in his introduction to Nutcracker, page xii (published by Crown Publishers, 1984, New York, NY)
Receives commission to illustrate a physics textbook, Atomics for the Millions by M.C. Eidinoff and others (New York: McGraw Hill, 1947)
Works after school at All-American Comics filling in backgrounds for Mutt and Jeff comic strip
Develops great admiration for Walt Disney and begins collecting Mickey Mouse memorabilia
Lives in Greenwich Village, New York where he is neighbors and friends with modernist poet, Marianne Moore.
Receives invitation to illustrate The Wonderful Farm by Marcel Aymé (New York: Harper and Row, 1951); illustrates Good Shabbos, Everybody! by Robert Garvey for the (New York: United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education, 1951)
Studies the Herman Melville collection at the Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Illustrates A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Strauss (New York: Harper, 1952)
Illustrates Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Zlateh The Goat and Other Stories (New York: Harper & Row, 1966) with magnificent back and white images, which are separately printed as etchings in limited editions
Collaborates with Pilobolus Dance Company and film director Mirra Bank in the creation of the documentary film Last Dance.
Sendak is presented with the inaugural Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award with Christine Nöstlinger, an international prize for children’s literature established by the Swedish government
Marabeth Cohen-Tyler © Tyler Graphics Ltd., 2006
This chronology provides an overview of selected biographical information, major solo and group exhibitions held within the artist's own lifetime.
Last updated October 2015