In honor of W. T. Benda's 147th birthday, I'd like to count down my picks for his top 5 illustrations. This wasn't an easy choice to make, as W. T. Benda's distinctive use of bold colors and subtly stylized shapes and lines make his work some of the most visually appealing of the era.
But without lamenting further on life's difficult choices, let's dive right in!
5.) Polish Army in France, WWI Recruitment Poster: As a Polish person himself, W. T. Benda might have been proud to see his own country represented in such a history-making event, as this spirited poster would suggest. His use of bold lines and dramatic depth certainly packs a punch, as does the simple, direct headline: "Polish Army in France." Taken as a whole, it clearly evokes the image of Poland having its chance to make history.
4.) Warrior on Horseback: Here we get the best of both worlds, namely Benda's skill at evoking drama, and his flair for exotic subjects. A brief search for his other work reveals a tendency to depict figures, (mostly female, as we see here,) in an outlandish, almost dreamy setting, which borders on the erotic. However, what I personally like best about this image is the dramatic composition and the unified color scheme.
3.) Yellow Butterfly, (Life Magazine Cover, September 27, 1923): This one isn't as bold and dramatic as the last two, but it yields more of a curvaceous, graceful appearance. What I like best about this one is his delicate use of line, his effective use of composition, and his skillfully balanced use of blue and yellow. On the whole, it's a very tranquil image and it puts us at ease just looking at it.
2.) American Magazine Cover: I find this image to be very bizarre and entrancing, (as so much of Benda's work is,) but his use of color is the main attraction here. Whereas his other uses of color have so far been more tightly confined to a limited color palette, here we see him really play with color in a kaleidoscopic way. As a side note, the reason we see so much drama and theatrics in Benda's work is because of his side-career in theater, where he designed masks and costumes. (And later in his life, he even made his own theatrical masks.) One can easily picture the above scene taking place in a hit Broadway show of the day.
1.) Three Black and White Figures Against a Red Backdrop: Here we see Benda's use of drama at its finest. The two standing figures appear to be engaged in a civil debate (or card game, as the figure on the right holding a deck of cards would suggest,) while the woman looks behind her with a terrified look in her eye. Why is she so visibly disturbed? And why are the two men so calm? Does she see something they don't, or do they see it too but are indifferent? Maybe they're plotting against her in some horrible way? This most likely could have been an illustration for an actual story, and reading it would doubtless produce all the answers to the questions we find ourselves asking, but I like it much better this way. Some art is supposed to be open ended and subject to interpretation, and it's supposed to get us asking questions. To top it all off, his direct use of a red and black color scheme adds an element of the macabre that only serves to heighten the dramatic and mysterious impact of this illustration.
Do you agree with this list? Please share some of your favorite works by W. T. Benda with us in the comments below.
I look forward to hearing from you, but until then.....
Happy Birthday, W. T. Benda!!!