April 2, 2010

The Covers of Frankenstein : Art by Jean-Léon Huens

Here’s a mid-60’s paperback edition of Mary Shelley’s novel from England’s Corgi Books, with a cover by one of the most celebrated illustrators of the twentieth century.

Belgian artist Jean-Léon Huens (1921-1982) first came to prominence for his children’s book illustrations. He would go on to provide exceptional covers for Tintin weekly comics magazine and the Marabout line of paperbacks. In 1946, with brother Étienne, Huens founded the Historia imprint and created over 400 card-sized paintings celebrating the history of Belgium. Huens established himself as a virtuoso artist not only for his intricately detailed paintings and the exhaustive research he invested into every piece, but as a tour de force, he executed each historical subject in the art style of its era, channeling the Masters like Vermeer, Van Eyck and so on.

In the Sixties, Huens expanded into worldwide markets, producing art for the international edition of Reader’s Digest and covers for The Saturday Evening Post and paperback publishers Dell, Penguin and Corgi. Huens’ association with National Geographic yielded very influential and now legendary illustrations, notably his portraits of famous scientists and explorers.

In 2002, Jean-Léon Huens was inducted, posthumously, into the prestigious Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame.

Huens’ uncluttered, low angle illustration for Frankenstein shows The Monster as a gangling giant. The sunlight, bright sky and windblown hair suggest the high mountains or the arctic wilderness where The Monster dwells. The facial expression is intriguing and invites interpretation. Huens’ references were obviously cinematic, with The Monster’s prominent brow and heavy lidded eyes. He wears the curious fur vest seen in Son of Frankenstein (1939) and that long arm dangling from a short sleeve is pure Karloff, complete with a high wrist scar.

Beautifully supported by a calligraphic title, it’s a wonderful, deceptively simple and very successful illustration.

With thanks, from the collection of Muir Hewitt.


Anonymous said...

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wich2 said...

Thanks, Pierre.

Once in a while, I see an illo that doesn't say "Universal Monster," or, "Pop Culture Monster," but very much, "Mother Mary's Monster."

That's him!

Salute, Jean-Leon.

Happy Easter, fellow "resurrection men."

-Craig W.

Sam said...

That is such a cool illustration. Love it.

Martin Powell said...

What an amazing painting! This has instantly become one of my all-time favorite depictions of the Frankenstein Monster. Part Karloff, part fairy tale, and purely Mary Shelley's creature. Brilliant!

John Rozum said...

I've never seen this particular cover before. I love everything about it, but most of all the depiction of the monster as not simply menacing. Menacing he is, but the expression on his face suggests that there's so much more to him than brute strength and anger.

Christopher said...

spectacular!..thats it..thats our Monster

Max the drunken severed head said...

This was my favorite cover of all the paperback editions I ever saw of the novel. Just gorgeous. The detail of the monster looking back-- wistfully?-- and the hair blowing gives it real atmosphere.

Thanks for the all the info on it!

Pierre Fournier said...

Yes, that expression on The Monster's face is so intriguing, and so alive. Fabulous illustration, and a real treat for those of us in the French-speaking world who grew up with Huens' children's book illustrations.

Patrick Huens said...

To all of you, "Frankensteinia" members,

it's a great pleasure to read you, admirers and, may be, potential purchasers of illustrations of Jean-Léon Huens...
Be aware that most of his original drawings for children's books, for the "Journal de Tintin", for covers of U.S. paperbacks - including "Prydain Chronicles" - greeting cards, etc ... are for sale in a gallery in Paris (France).
Interested? I would be happy to give you more details ...
Huens Patrick, eldest son of Jean-Léon Huens.

Mary said...

I have a copy of the book for sale with a good image of the cover