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The Line King's Library


Donald & Mary Oenslager Gallery

Al Hirschfeld’s career began at Goldwyn Pictures in 1920 across the street from the main branch of the New York Public Library, and over the next nine decades, Hirschfeld and the Library grew even closer. Hirschfeld availed himself of The Library’s book and picture collections, he attended its events, and was a lifelong supporter. Over the years, the Library has collected original Hirschfeld drawings, paintings, and prints, and its shelves are filled with books and publications featuring Hirschfeld artwork (including fifty years of the Best Plays series), as well as posters, album covers, and all manner of ephemera. His barber chair and drawing table, where he created virtually all of his work, now greets visitors to The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts on the plaza of Lincoln Center.


Al Hirschfeld (1903 – 2003) brought a new set of visual conventions to the task of  performance portraiture when he made his debut in 1926. His signature work, defined by a linear calligraphic style, made his name a verb: to be "Hirschfelded" was a sign that one has arrived. Hirschfeld said his contribution was to take the character, created by the playwright and portrayed by the actor, and reinvent it for the reader. Playwright Terrence McNally wrote: "No one 'writes' more accurately of the performing arts than Al Hirschfeld. He accomplishes on a blank page with his pen and ink in a few strokes what many of us need a lifetime of words to say."


Now for the first time, the largest library collection of Hirschfeld artwork and archival material will be brought together in a new exhibition, The Line King’s Library: Al Hirschfeld at The New York Public Library, in the Oenslager Gallery at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts to commemorate the 110th anniversary of Al Hirschfeld’s birth, and to celebrate the latest gift of Hirschfeld papers and objects