Hilary Knight’s Stage Struck World Opens at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Free exhibition explores beloved Eloise artist's work in theater and theatrical inspirations

APRIL 3, 2017 - Best known as the illustrator of the American classic Eloise, Hilary Knight cites the performing arts as the single greatest influence on his life and career. Now for the first time, Knight’s life-long love of the theatrical is the subject of a comprehensive exhibition on display April 25 through September 1, 2017 at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Hilary Knight's Stage-Struck World includes original artwork for posters, illustrations for Vanity Fair magazine (where Knight is a contributing editor), Knight’s most recent work — three-dimensional portraits in stage-like settings — and costume and set designs for performances and revues that reveal that for Knight, all the world is indeed a stage.

"My life has been a 90-year gaze at the world around me,” explains Knight, “the total wonder of nature and the world of the theater, movies and fashion. I tried to absorb everything, and what emerged from it is what this show reveals, especially about the help and inspiration I've received from so many individuals. My hope is that the viewer will look up from their cell phones and see something new to them and learn that this world we are inhabiting is very special."

Curated by David Leopold, independent curator and Archivist for the Al Hirschfeld Foundation, Stage-Struck World spans the entirety of Knight's life, tracing his early fascinations with the circus and Broadway through his latest theatrical drawings and illustrations.

"For those who only know Hilary’s work through his books, this show will be a surprise,” says Leopold. “For those who know some of his theatre work, this show will be a revelation as they will not only see his celebrated posters and preliminary studies for those works, but unpublished works as well. Hilary has also designed some remarkable parts of the installation that make this exhibition unlike any other that have been at the Library...or anywhere else. You will have to see it to believe it."

"We are thrilled to showcase Hilary's life-long passion for and contribution to the performing arts here at the Library," says Jacqueline Z. Davis, Barbara G. and Lawrence A. Fleischman Executive Director of The Library for the Performing Arts. "Just as Hillary was inspired by the theatrical world around him, visitors will surely be inspired by his beautiful works."

As a child, Knight's artist parents introduced him to musicals withJumbo in 1935. His early theatrical influences were Ethel Merman in Red, Hot and Blue; Gertrude Lawrence in Lady in the Dark; and Carmen Miranda in The Streets of Paris. Films were another source of inspiration and obsession. Designer Adrian’s extravagant costumes for The Great Ziegfeld(1936) mesmerized him; child star Sabu in Elephant Boy (1937) became a hero. After studying at the Art Students' League with Reginald Marsh, and then a stint in the US Navy in World War II, Knight designed sets under the exacting eye of the legendary George Abbott at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine. Eloise became a national and international bestseller in the 1950s, and Knight's children's book career took off. Yet his work beyond children's literature, in the theater, continued with iconic Broadway posters, including No, No, Nanette, Irene, Half a Sixpence, and the burlesque musical Sugar Babies, starring Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller, among many others.

While Hilary Knight's Stage-Struck World focuses on the artist's work in the performing arts, a children's exhibitionEloise At The Museum, will be on display at The New-York Historical Society from June 30 through October 9, 2017.

Hilary Knight’s Stage-Struck World is made possible by the generous support of Terry Allen Kramer.


Sara Beth Joren, sarabethjoren@nypl.org

Nora Lyons, noralyons@nypl.org

About The New York Public Library For The Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts houses one of the world’s most extensive combinations of circulating, reference, and rare archival collections in its field. These materials are available free of charge, along with a wide range of special programs, including exhibitions, seminars, and performances. An essential resource for everyone with an interest in the arts — whether professional or amateur — the Library is known particularly for its prodigious collections of non-book materials such as historic recordings, videotapes, autograph manuscripts, correspondence, sheet music, stage designs, press clippings, programs, posters and photographs. The Library is part of The New York Public Library system, which has 90 locations in the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, and is a lead provider of free education for all.