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)
1928 Born June 10 in Brooklyn, New York, United States of America
1943-46 Attends Lafayette High School; draws cartoon series for high school newspaper. 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
1946 Works for Timely Service, a window-display company, builds and paints models for store windows
1948-52 Works for F.A.O. Schwarz in window-display department; attends The Art Students League of New York at night. Lives in Greenwich Village, New York where he is neighbours and friends with modernist poet, Marianne Moore.
1950 Meets Ursula Nordstrom, children’s book editor at Harper and Brothers, 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)
1955-68 Collaborates with illustrations for Little Bear series of easy readers by Else Holmelund Minarik (New York: Harper, 1957)
1956 Begins writing and illustrating his own books, Kenny’s Window (New York: Harper)
1960 Completes first book with Rosie character, The Sign on Rosie’s Door (New York: Harper)
1955-61 Illustrates What Do You Say, Dear? and What Do You Do, Dear? by Sesyle Joslin, parodies of Victorian primers on infant deportment (New York: Young Scott, 1961)
1962 Creates the Nutshell Library, 6.4 x 10.1 cm books, comprising Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup with Rice, One was Johnny, Pierre (New York: Harper and Row)
1963 Creates illustrated book Where the Wild Things Are (New York: Harper & Row)
1964 Wins Caldecott Medal for most distinguished American picture book of the previous year for Where the Wild Things Are. 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
1967 Publishes Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or There Must Be More to Life, a tribute to his Sealyham terrier Jenny (New York: Harper & Row)
1970 Completes In The Night Kitchen (New York: Harper & Row); awarded Hans Christian Andersen International Medal for children’s literature
1973 Completes illustrations for The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm translated by Lore Segal and Randall Jarrell (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
1975 Contributes scenario, lyrics and pictures for animated film, Really Rosie, music by Carole King, design by Jane Byers Bierhorst, directed and choreographed by Patricia Birch (New York: Caedmon, c. 1981) – songs later released on a record and then CD.
1981 Completes Outside Over There (New York: Harper & Row) which is voted New York Times Outstanding Book
1982 Wins American Book Award for Outside Over There
1984 Completes print at Tyler Graphics Ltd, Bedford Village, New York Faithful Nutcracker to include with the deluxe version of his illustrated version of ETA Hoffman’s Nutcracker, (New York: Crown Publishers)
1985 Receives Redbook Book Award
1986 Wins Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the Association for Library Service to Children
1988 In collaboration with Garth Williams and Jerome Griswold illustrates The Chirldren’s Books of Randall Jarrell (Athens: University of Georgia Press)
1990 Co-founder and artistic director of national children’s theater The Night Kitchen Theatre
1993 Completes We are all in the Dumps with Jack and Guy: Two Nursery Rhymes with Pictures, (New York: Harper Collins)
1995 Illustrates Herman Melville’s Pierre or The Ambiguities (New York: Harper Collins)
1996 Designs sets and costumes for Frank and Joey Go to Work for the Harper Festival, New York
1998 Contributor to book, Worlds of Childhood: The Art & Craft of Writing for Children, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). Collaborates with Pilobolus Dance Company and film director Mirra Bank in the creation of the documentary film Last Dance.
2003 Inauguration of The Maurice Sendak Building at the Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The opening exhibition Let the Wild Rumpus Start! features original drawings for the 1963 book Where The Wild Things Are. Also, to inaugurate their new Maurice Sendak Gallery, the museum assembled Mickey Mouse memorabilia from the author’s personal collection in an exhibition entitled, An Infinitude of Mouses. 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
2012 Maurice Sendak died in Danbury, Connecticut.
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.
NATIONAL GALLERY PUBLICATIONS
- Workshop: The Kenneth Tyler Collection, Jane Kinsman (ed.), 2015