Carl Oscar August Erickson was born in Joliet, Illinois, USA in 1891 of Swedish parents. He attended Chicago’s Academy of Arts for two years, and left around 1909. His first job was for Marshall Field, Lord and Thomas and other advertising accounts in Chicago. He shortened his name to “Eric” for his artistic work. He worked for several years as a commercial artist and sign painter before moving to New York in 1914, a young man in his 20’s. For 5-6 years he made a living of sorts as a freelance commercial illustrator. In 1916, his first illustrations appeared in Vogue and by 1925 he was a regular contributor to the magazine, specializing in drawings of people in fashionable settings. In 1920 he married his wife Lee (who was also an illustrator) and moved to Paris. This was to be their post until the 2nd World War began. By 1930 or so, he was as important as any artist on the staff. His illustrations were lively, fluid and confident, in contrast with the flat linear styles of the other 1920’s artists in the fashion field. In his fashion sketches, he stressed the importance of detail. Eric was nearly 40 in late 1930 when he designed his first cover for Vogue. It is shown here on the right. An impressionist style, the briefest of brushstrokes, a black glove dominating the pink background. From then on, he gained in confidence and sophistication but his style remained his own. Eric always drew from life, never from memory, imposing agonies of immobility upon his subjects. The lightness of his touch belies the efforts of study and application and identifies him as a remarkable draughtsman in his special field. When the Fall of France came, Eric and his family were in Paris. They escaped through Bordeaux and reached New York, which remained his base for the duration of the war. His illustrations lightened up the war years for the readers of American Vogue. Eric was part of Vogue for more than 35 years. His drawing, in Vogue’s own words was “to the Paris couture, the most desired of representations for their designs.” He had an undeclared rivalry with Vogue’s other great illustrator Willaumez but they were always complementary to each other, each lighting up the other’s virtues with his own. The elegant drawing on the left is from 1957 a year before he died. Eric continued working for Vogue magazine until his death in 1958 at the age of 67 after an illness that over his last few months had prevented him from working with his habitual regularity. The Brooklyn Museum in New York held a retrospective exhibition of his drawings in 1959, a year after his death. The Parsons School of Design also hosted a major retrospective of Eric’s work in 1964. It now maintains his fashion illustrations for people to study.
Carl Oscar August Erickson