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Roger Duvoisin


Roger Duvoisin, whose career in children's book illustration would span two-thirds of his lifetime, was born in Switzerland to a French-Swiss family with a practical interest in the arts. Young Roger developed a talent for music, but his father, an architect, steered him into art and design training in Geneva. There he worked for a time designing and painting murals, theatrical scenery, and posters. Design work soon took him to France, where after some experience in ceramic production, he Roger Duvoisinentered the world of high-fashion textile design. In this fast-moving world, the visual concepts of modern art were being rapidly assimilated by the dynamic fashion industry and adopted by industrial entrepreneurs who eagerly scouted trend-setting Paris for new talent. At age twenty-one, he was hired by H. R. Mallinson & Co., an American producer of fashion silk goods whose advertising slogan was "Dare to be Different." Roger and his wife Louise Fatio emigrated from France to the United States in November 1925.

Four years later, the Great Depression ended the booming production of new silk fabric designs and Duvoisin's firm eventually went bankrupt. Inspired by the paintings of his young son, Duvoisin turned to writing and illustrating children's books. In this new field, his talent, originality, and a natural gift for storytelling were soon noticed. He was introduced to Charles Scribner, founder of the publishing company with his name, who published a little boy was drawing, Duvoisin's first book, in 1932. This unedited first effort made little commercial impact, but his second book, donkey-donkey, the troubles of a silly little donkey, first published by Whitman Company, achieved a popularity that endured though four editions over several decades, with over a million copies in print.

The Duvoisins moved to a farm in Gladstone, New Jersey, where they could enjoy country life surrounded by animals they loved, yet still be near New York, the heart of the American publishing and art world. Duvoisin wrote and illustrated several series of books featuring animal characters he created: Petunia the foolish goose, Veronica the hippo, Crocus the crocodile, Jasmine the cow, and more. His virtuoso technique with line and color separations made by hand became legendary in the field. Duvoisin illustrated a series of stories about the Happy Lion, written by his wife Louise Fatio Duvoisin, as well as the works of many other contemporary and classic writers. He had a particularly fruitful collaboration with Alvin Tresselt, developing lyrical, expressive images that complemented the varied moods of Tresselt's prose poems. Duvoisin won the prestigious Caldecott Award for White Snow Bright Snow, written by Alvin Tresselt, in 1948, and the Caldecott Honor Award for Hide and Seek Fog, also by Tresselt, in 1966. Duvoisin continued to experiment artistically, exploring the medium of collage during the nineteen-sixties with the same robust enthusiasm he had shown for the bold designs of the twenties.

Many who may not have experienced Roger Duvoisin's children's book illustrations are likely to have enjoyed his numerous New Yorker magazine covers or the cards he designed for UNICEF. Duvoisin's work received many marks of public recognition from such diverse institutions as the International Board on Books for Young People, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, the University of Minnesota, the University of Southern Mississippi, and the New York Academy of Sciences. Long after his death, his illustrations continue to be included in exhibitions of outstanding art for children's literature.

In her introduction to a catalogue of a retrospective exhibition at the Zimmerli Art Museum, Roger Duvoisin: The Art of Children's Books, Dr. Ellin Greene emphasized that Duvoisin understood and appreciated the child's viewpoint as few adults do. It may well be that this rare quality, even more than his wit, warmth, humor, and artistic brilliance, shaped his unique contribution to American children's book illustration.

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Principal Investigator: Kay E. Vandergrift, Professor Emerita

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