This is a good article. Click here for more information.

Karoly Grosz (illustrator)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Karoly Grosz
Painting of the face of Frankenstein's monster, illuminated in red and surrounded by darkness
Poster illustration of Boris Karloff as the monster from Frankenstein (1931)
Born
Grósz Károly[note 1]

c. 1896
Hungary[note 2]
DiedAfter 1938 (aged 41-42)
Other namesCarl (or Karl) Grosz
OccupationIllustrator of film posters, advertising art director for Universal Pictures
Years activec. 1920–1938
Spouse(s)
Bertha Grosz
(m. 1917)
Children2
Signature
Grosz

Karoly Grosz (US: /ˈkɑːˌrɔɪ ˈɡrs/, KAH-roy GROHSS; Hungarian: [ˈkaːroj ˈɡroːs]; c. 1896–after 1938) was a Hungarian–American illustrator of Classical Hollywood–era film posters. As art director at Universal Pictures for the bulk of the 1930s, Grosz oversaw the company's advertising campaigns and contributed hundreds of his own illustrations. He is especially recognized for his dramatic, colorful posters for classic horror films. Grosz's best-known posters advertised early Universal Classic Monsters films such as Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Beyond the horror genre, his other notable designs include posters for the epic war film All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and the screwball comedy My Man Godfrey (1936).

Original lithograph copies of his poster art are scarce and highly valued by collectors. Two posters illustrated by Grosz—ads for Frankenstein and The Mummy, respectively—have set the auction record for the world's most expensive film poster. The latter held the record for nearly 20 years and, at the time of its sale in 1997, it may have been the most expensive art print of any kind, including other forms of commercial art as well as fine art. The reference website LearnAboutMoviePosters (LAMP) noted that, as of August 2016, Grosz appeared more than any other artist on its comprehensive list of vintage film posters sold for at least $20,000.[3]

Despite the growth in his artwork's valuation and prominence, very little biographical information about Grosz is known. He was born in Hungary around 1896, immigrated to the United States in 1901, became a naturalized American citizen, lived in New York, and worked in film advertising between approximately 1920 and 1938. Only a small portion of his artistic output has been attributed to him, reflecting the standard anonymity of early American film poster artists.

Life and work[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Little is known about Grosz's life, as is the case with many early poster artists. Details of his biography have remained obscure even after his illustrations became some of the most valuable in film poster collecting.[3]

In an appendix of the 1988 book Reel Art providing biographical blurbs of poster artists, Grosz's birthplace was given as Hungary but his dates of birth and death were listed as unknown.[2] According to New York state and federal census records dated 1925 and 1930, Grosz was born in Hungary around 1896, immigrated to the United States in 1901, was a naturalized citizen, and spoke Yiddish. He was married to Bertha Grosz around 1917 and they had two children by 1930.[4]

He was sometimes referred to as "Carl" or "Karl" Grosz.[5] He legally changed his name to Carl Grosz Karoly in August 1937.[6]

Early career[edit]

Display of seven posters, several of which share a visual motif of a couple with an umbrella
Grosz's early poster work for the film April Showers, reproduced in The Moving Picture World magazine.[7]

Grosz began working in film advertising as early as 1920, when an industry newspaper described him as an employee of producer Lewis J. Selznick's Selznick Pictures, working on art titling at the company's studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey.[8] In 1921, he was listed as a member of the New York-based professional organization Associated Motion Picture Advertisers and an employee of Associated Producers.[9] By 1923, he managed the advertising art departments of both Preferred Pictures and producer Al Lichtman's company.[10]

As a painter, Grosz tended to work with oil and watercolor,[11] and was influenced by a range of movements spanning Expressionism to Art Deco.[12] His posters for the 1923 silent film April Showers were considered novel for the time because the designs emphasized an "idea" or visual theme, rather than literal depictions of scenes that a viewer could expect to see in the film.[13] He was credited the same year with a billboard-size display for silent western The Virginian, the second adaptation of Owen Wister's 1902 novel of the same name.[14]

Career at Universal Pictures[edit]

Grosz began working at Universal's art department in New York in the mid-1920s. By 1930, he and Philip Cochrane had been appointed advertising art directors by the company's first advertising manager (and Philip's brother), Robert Cochrane.[15] Grosz and Cochrane have been credited with the generally high artistic quality of Universal's advertising throughout the 1930s.[16] Images like Grosz's teaser poster for Frankenstein introduced the general public to the now-familiar characters from Universal's early horror films.[17] Alongside horror-themed artwork, Grosz's tenure at Universal was distinguished by "lively, dramatic poster work to match the prestige and earnings" of such films as the World War I epic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and the early screwball comedy My Man Godfrey (1936).[15]

Grosz's poster designs were exported to international markets, sometimes with modifications or variations.[18] In the United Kingdom, his posters for horror films were deemed so outrageous and lurid that by 1932 the British Board of Film Censors introduced stricter content regulations for advertising displays in public places.[19]

Black-and-white drawing of a metallic robot head
Concept art by Grosz
Portrait photograph of an actor portraying Frankenstein
Karloff as the monster
Grosz's robotic illustration of Frankenstein's monster has been credited as the origin of the character's distinctive neck bolts.[20]

Grosz also made contributions to the look of Universal's films themselves. Most notably, his concept art for Frankenstein's monster, which suggested a more mechanical or robotic appearance, served as the source for the steel bolts in the monster's neck.[20] A comparatively minor detail, the neck-bolts are now an iconic visual element that is closely associated with the monster, especially Universal's version.[21] Although make-up artist Jack Pierce took credit in interviews for the monster's neck-bolts, Argentine-Canadian film critic and historian Alberto Manguel rejected Pierce's claim, finding that Grosz's concept art came earlier.[note 3]

Cochrane left Universal in 1937, while Grosz may have continued to work there as late as 1938.[23] Following their departures, Universal's poster art of the late 1930s and early 1940s entered a decline marked by a shift from vivid illustrations to mundane photographic reproductions. The quality of Universal's poster art improved again after Maurice Kallis was recruited from Paramount Pictures to serve as art director.[24]

List of attributed film posters and other art[edit]

Grosz is believed to have contributed hundreds of illustrations to Universal between the late 1920s and late 1930s.[25] He is often credited, at least partially, for the majority of Universal's posters produced while he was head of the art department—even for posters he may not have necessarily illustrated himself—because his position imputed responsibility for the overall art direction of the distributor's ad campaigns.[26] Determining the authorship of vintage film posters is intrinsically difficult, however, due to the generally anonymous nature of the work, especially in the United States.[27] Grosz's window card for Murders in the Rue Morgue is a rare example of an American film poster from the period signed by the artist.[28]

Poster illustration of Frankenstein's monster hoisting his bride
Bride of Frankenstein, "Style B" 24-sheet illustrated by Grosz.[29] Film historians Stephen Rebello and Richard C. Allen hailed the poster as "[o]ne peak effort among many" for Universal's art department during Grosz's tenure as art director.[15]

The list below includes films with poster illustrations, ad campaign art direction, or other artwork that has been specifically attributed to Grosz in a secondary source. The gallery below includes individual designs attributed to him.

Films with promotional artwork attributed to Karoly Grosz
Date Film title Studio Ref.
Year Premiere or
release
1923 Sep 30,
1923
The Virginian Preferred Pictures [14]
Dec 10,
1923
April Showers [7]
1927 Nov 4,
1927
Uncle Tom's Cabin[note 4] Universal Pictures [30]
1930 Apr 21,
1930
All Quiet on the Western Front [31]
1931 Feb 14,
1931
Dracula [32]
Nov 21,
1931
Frankenstein [33]
1932 Feb 21,
1932
Murders in the Rue Morgue [34]
Oct 20,
1932
The Old Dark House [35]
Dec 22,
1932
The Mummy [36]
1933 Nov 13,
1933
The Invisible Man [37]
Aug 1,
1933
Moonlight and Pretzels [15]
1934 May 7,
1934
The Black Cat[note 5] [38]
1935 Apr 20,
1935
Bride of Frankenstein [39]
Jul 8,
1935
The Raven [40]
1936 Jan 20,
1936
The Invisible Ray [41]
Mar 9,
1936
Love Before Breakfast [42]
May 13,
1936
Dracula's Daughter [19]
Sep 6,
1936
My Man Godfrey [43]
1938 Jun 3,
1938
Wives Under Suspicion [2]

Gallery[edit]

Retrospective appraisal[edit]

Grosz's illustrations are now praised for their artistic quality and prized by collectors, but this was not the case until a half-century after the fact. In their own time, lithograph film posters were ephemeral objects to be distributed to movie theaters and disposed at the end of a film's run. Well-preserved original copies are scarce—for example, there were only two known copies of Grosz's one-sheet poster for The Mummy until 2001, when a third was found in a garage in Arizona.[52]

According to film historians Stephen Rebello and Richard C. Allen, Grosz's colorful, dramatic illustrations "brought ... a certain charm and almost naive perfection" to "the highly sensationalistic elements of directors Tod Browning's and James Whale's classics—hideous creatures, half-clad heroines, unsealed tombs, mad doctors."[53] In their estimation, Grosz's work in the horror genre was equaled only by William Rose's poster art for the 1940s B movies produced by Val Lewton for RKO Pictures, such as Cat People (1942).[53] British film historian Sim Branaghan wrote that Grosz's "wild imaginings" had an outsize influence on poster design in the UK from the 1950s onward, especially for the burgeoning market in exploitation films, as film censorship in the United Kingdom diminished and films with mature themes targeting adult audiences became more mainstream.[54]

Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh wrote that Grosz's posters were highly original and often "as legendary as the films themselves."[37] Although his artistic style usually conformed to the relatively conservative standards of commercial art, they cited his teaser posters for Frankenstein and The Invisible Man as major exceptions that remain "striking," "avant-garde," and "ultra-modern" even by contemporary standards.[37] In 2013, Nourmand included the Frankenstein teaser in a book listing his choices for the 100 "essential" movie posters.[55] The American Film Institute included at least six posters illustrated by Grosz in its 2003 list of "100 Years... 100 American Movie Poster Classics": The Mummy (no. 4), The Invisible Man (no. 29), the teaser for Frankenstein (no. 40), the teaser for The Invisible Man (no. 69), Murders in the Rue Morgue (no. 85), and Dracula's Daughter (no. 88).[56] Premiere magazine ranked The Mummy poster at no. 15 in its 2007 list of the 25 best movie posters.[57]

Man with long hair playing electric guitar onstage at a concert
Wall-mounted electric guitar on display in a museum
Metallica guitarist and horror aficionado Kirk Hammett (left, in 2017) named Grosz his favorite film poster artist and owns a custom guitar based on the three-sheet poster for The Mummy (in both pictures).

Kirk Hammett—the lead guitarist for Metallica and a prolific collector of horror memorabilia—named Grosz his favorite poster artist:

His lines are very seductive and there's a glamor and an elegance he manages to capture. In some of those movie posters, even though they're 'scary horror' movies, there's still a factor of beauty and elegance that draws me in even deeper. I think it's because of the fact it's not just horror. It's not just darkness and evil. There are also elements of beauty and hope in Grosz's illustrations. To me, he was a master.[38]

Hammett likened the Frankenstein teaser poster to an "Andy Warhol portrait gone evil" and, "in essence, an amazing example of pop art, 30 years before that term and movement even existed."[58] Since 1995, he has owned a custom ESP KH-2 electric guitar painted with a design from Grosz's Mummy three-sheet.[59]

Grosz's artwork has been exhibited in art museums. A one-sheet poster for The Mummy was featured in the 1999 exhibition "The American Century: Art and Culture 1900–2000" at the Whitney Museum of American Art.[60] A traveling exhibition of horror memorabilia from Hammett's collection, with several pieces by Grosz, debuted in 2017 at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts before continuing to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia, South Carolina.[61] The high valuation of his work brought him posthumous recognition in his native Hungary as a noteworthy Hungarian artist who lived abroad.[62]

Valuation[edit]

The "Style A" one-sheet for Dracula topped the list of most expensive film poster in 2017.[63] Its illustrator is unknown, but Grosz was art director for the film's ad campaign.[64]

The high-end art market generally excluded film memorabilia until the late 1980s.[65] Since that time, original copies of Grosz's poster designs have been highly valued at auction. As of 2012, six of the world's ten most expensive film posters had been produced for Universal horror films under his art direction.[66] He is also the best-represented artist on a much longer list maintained by the website LearnAboutMoviePosters (LAMP), which is periodically updated to include every known sale of a film poster for $20,000 or higher.[3]

Two posters illustrated by Grosz have set the record for most expensive film poster at auction. In an October 1993 auction, a Frankenstein poster sold at auction for $198,000 (equivalent to $355,000 in 2020), doubling the pre-sale estimation and nearly tripling the previous record price.[67] In March 1997, Sotheby's sold an original copy of the one-sheet for The Mummy for $453,000 (equivalent to $730,000 in 2020).[68] The sale exceeded not only Grosz's own previous record, but also the highest price then achieved for an Art Nouveau poster by French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec; as a result, The Mummy became not only the most-expensive poster in film advertising, but possibly in all of fine art.[69] While Grosz's name had been largely unknown before The Mummy sale, even among high-end collectors, other examples of his poster art dramatically increased in value shortly afterward.[70] Will Bennett of The Daily Telegraph said that "the name that collectors look for is Karoly Grosz", though he noted that the exceptionally high Mummy sale price, equivalent to "a decent painting by Gainsborough", "was regarded as a freak row between two collectors".[71]

The auction record held by The Mummy was broken in 2014 by a poster for the 1927 film London After Midnight.[63] An original Dracula lithograph set the record again in 2017 with a sales price of $525,800; while the illustrator was unidentified, Grosz was responsible for the art direction of the film's poster campaign as a whole.[72] In 2018, another copy of The Mummy poster was expected to reclaim the record with an estimated sales value as high as $1.5 million. It failed to sell, however, with no bid meeting the $950,000 minimum by the October 31 deadline.[73]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Hungarian personal names follow Eastern name order: family name first, given name second. Both names are spelled with acute accents in the original Hungarian, but his name has been rendered without accent marks by almost all sources published during and after his career. At least one article, published in 2017, gave his name as "Károly Grósz".[1]
  2. ^ Grosz was born in Hungary in an unknown year.[2] Technically, this would have been the Hungarian region of the nation-state Austria-Hungary (1867–1918) at the time of his birth.
  3. ^ Manguel found that Pierce had also claimed credit for other individual contributions to the appearance of Frankenstein's monster that were not his own; for example, Pierce similarly claimed that he had conceived the monster's flat-top boxy skull, even though the actual origin for the distinctive skull-shape was a description in the screenplay. Nevertheless, Manguel asserted Pierce was "in the end responsible" for the overall appearance and onscreen realization of the monster.[22]
  4. ^ Grosz designed a souvenir book distributed at the film's premiere.[30]
  5. ^ Hammett listed The Black Cat among Grosz's poster work but did not specify which of the film's multiple posters Grosz illustrated or designed.[38]
  6. ^ a b c d Grosz has been specifically credited for this poster's art direction, but not necessarily for its illustration.

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Siegel 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 325.
  3. ^ a b c Poole & Poole 2016, p. 9 ("... it is even difficult to find information on the artist [who] has more movie posters [on LAMP's list of most-expensive posters] than any other—the big dollar leader—Karoly Grosz"). For the freely available version of LAMP's list, see Poole & Poole 2020a and Poole & Poole 2020b; note that this version of the list does not include artist attributions.
  4. ^ Ancestry Library n.d.a (1925 New York state census); Ancestry Library n.d.b (1930 federal census).
  5. ^ See, e.g., Spedon 1920, p. 40 and Dannenberg 1926, p. 110 ("Carl Grosz"); Gulick 1924, p. 29 ("Karl Grosz").
  6. ^ Harman 1937, p. 15.
  7. ^ a b Grimm 1923, p. 342.
  8. ^ Spedon 1920, p. 40.
  9. ^ Dannenberg 1921, p. 177.
  10. ^ Da Ponte 1923, p. 360 ("... Karoly Grosz, head of the Preferred Art Department"); Quigley 1923, p. 32 ("... Karoly Grosz as art manager" of "Al Lichtman Corporation").
  11. ^ Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 325; Nourmand & Marsh 2004, p. 132.
  12. ^ Branaghan & Chibnall 2006, p. 46; Heritage Auctions 2015.
  13. ^ Grimm 1923, p. 342; Johnston 1923a, p. 1343; Johnston 1923b, p. 1462.
  14. ^ a b Da Ponte 1923, p. 360.
  15. ^ a b c d Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 93.
  16. ^ Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 93; Lieber 2011, p. 55; Jansen 2016, p. 45.
  17. ^ Della Cava 2011; Nourmand & Marsh 2004, p. 133 (attributing the poster to Grosz).
  18. ^ Branaghan & Chibnall 2006, p. 46.
  19. ^ a b c Branaghan & Chibnall 2006, p. 47.
  20. ^ a b Skal 2001, pp. 132–133; Manguel 2003, p. 302.
  21. ^ Skal 2001, pp. 132–133; Bailey 2011 (noting the neck-bolts are considered by Universal to be one of the copyright-protected elements of its iteration of Frankenstein's monster).
  22. ^ Manguel 2003, p. 302.
  23. ^ Rebello & Allen 1988, pp. 93, 215, 325.
  24. ^ Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 93; Lieber 2011, p. 55.
  25. ^ Rebello & Allen 1988, pp. 93, 325.
  26. ^ Nourmand & Marsh 2004, p. 132; Jansen 2016, p. 45.
  27. ^ Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 324; Walne 2012.
  28. ^ Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 325; Smith 2009, p. 266.
  29. ^ Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 224; Nourmand & Marsh 2004, p. 9.
  30. ^ a b Railton n.d.
  31. ^ a b Rebello & Allen 1988, pp. 276–277.
  32. ^ a b Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 217.
  33. ^ Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 218.
  34. ^ a b Nourmand & Marsh 2004, p. 179.
  35. ^ a b Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 220; Nourmand & Marsh 2004, p. 105.
  36. ^ a b Nourmand & Marsh 2004, p. 141.
  37. ^ a b c d Nourmand & Marsh 2004, p. 132.
  38. ^ a b c Hammett & Barkan 2017.
  39. ^ Nourmand & Marsh 2004, pp. 9, 134.
  40. ^ a b Nourmand & Marsh 2004, p. 178; Tudor 2014
  41. ^ a b Nourmand & Marsh 2003b, p. 70.
  42. ^ a b Jansen 2016, p. 45.
  43. ^ a b Nourmand & Marsh 2003a, p. 8.
  44. ^ Gregory 1998.
  45. ^ Nourmand & Marsh 2004, p. 133.
  46. ^ a b Nourmand & Marsh 2004, p. 134.
  47. ^ Smith 2009, p. 266.
  48. ^ Burgess 2017.
  49. ^ Nourmand & Marsh 2003b, pp. 70–71.
  50. ^ Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 224.
  51. ^ Rebello & Allen 1988, pp. 174–175.
  52. ^ Jones 2002, p. 52.
  53. ^ a b Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 215.
  54. ^ Branaghan & Chibnall 2006, p. 100.
  55. ^ Nourmand 2013, pp. 48–49.
  56. ^ Dirks n.d. (providing general information about AFI's "100 American Movie Poster Classics" list); MovieGoods.com 2007a (entries 1–50 from AFI's list, including poster images); MovieGoods.com 2007b (entries 51–100); see gallery above for sources verifying attribution of these six posters to Grosz.
  57. ^ Premiere 2007.
  58. ^ Hammett & Chirazi 2012, p. 32.
  59. ^ Scapelliti 2016 (providing the make and model of the guitar, ESP KH-2); Burgess 2017 (identifying the original poster design the guitar is based on, and attributing it to Grosz); Hammett et al. 2019, 3:50–3:56 (identifying 1995 as the specific year Hammett acquired the guitar).
  60. ^ Sotheby's 2018.
  61. ^ Barry 2019.
  62. ^ Hamvay 2004; Jankó 2004.
  63. ^ a b Couch 2018.
  64. ^ Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 217 (crediting Grosz with the art direction of the Dracula poster campaign).
  65. ^ LeDuff 1997.
  66. ^ Pulver 2012.
  67. ^ King 1993; Nourmand & Marsh 2003a, p. 10.
  68. ^ Associated Press 1997; Feiertag et al. 2001, pp. 14, 50–51, 70, 125.
  69. ^ Nourmand & Marsh 2003a, p. 6; Nourmand & Marsh 2004, p. 10.
  70. ^ Windsor 1998.
  71. ^ Bennett 1998, p. 19.
  72. ^ Couch 2018; Rebello & Allen 1988, p. 217 (crediting Grosz with the art direction of the Dracula poster campaign).
  73. ^ Michaud 2018.

Sources[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Periodicals and web sources[edit]