There was a great disturbance in the Force this week as George Lucas announced he's locating his new art museum in Chicago instead of San Francisco. But Lucas's art isn't all Millennium Falcon models: There are some seriously fascinating pieces in his collection, all themed around the concept of storytelling.
The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will focus on the power of a single image to tell a story, inspire emotion, or encapsulate universal truths. "What distinguishes narrative art from other genres is its ability to capture a shared experience across diverse cultures preserving it for future generations," according to the museum's website. The idea is to illustrate the evolution of this optimistic, accessible narrative imagery into cinema, animation, and beyond. But don't worry, nerds, there will also be a few Star Wars concept drawings in the mix, like the one of Cloud City, above.
Lucas's collection is massive, according to PR director David Perry: "If we only used his art, we could rotate an exhibit every six months for nine years and never repeat a piece of art. The collection is worth anything from $600 million to priceless." It's also incredibly diverse. Here's a look at some of the more unique pieces that Lucas is bringing with him to Chicago, which are like taking a peek inside his creative process.
George Lucas is a longtime collector of the work of American illustrator and painter Norman Rockwell, who was best known for his covers of The Saturday Evening Post, which he illustrated for over 40 years. These glimpses of Americana manage to tell an entire story in a single image, and perfectly illustrate Lucas's focus on "narrative art"—in fact, Lucas has said that his filmmaking roots began when he tried to write stories prompted by the Saturday Evening Post covers at his home. Norman Rockwell was such an inspiration that Lucas added him as a character in an episode of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
Lucas's friend and collaborator Steven Spielberg is also known for collecting Rockwell's paintings, and the two of them loaned many pieces from their collections for a Smithsonian show in 2010. Rockwell has obviously influenced their work, as Lucas told CBS News: "You know, so many artists have a tendency to paint without emotion, without any connection to the audience. And both Steve and I are diehard emotionalists. We love to connect with the audience. Rockwell loved to connect with the audience." One could argue that a film like American Graffiti was a contemporary version of Rockwell's slice-of-life Americana. This painting usually hangs in Lucas's office.
Another largely commercial artist, Wyeth became famous for his illustrations of novels and short stories for Scribner's, including many works of classic literature, and his versions of books like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe were standards in homes for several generations. He also traveled throughout the country and was one of the important artists who helped communicate ideas about the largely unknown American West to a captive audience back home.
The ethereal work of painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish employed bright colors and romanticized subjects, including an ongoing series of androgynous figures posed on rocky landscapes. Apparently Lucas owns an exceptionally large collection of movie posters, and you can see how his love for dramatic illustration like this influenced the way that his own films were marketed.
Christy was popular illustrator and painter known for recreating famous scenes in American history (like the signing of the Constitution) as well as advertising for the U.S. Army and other patriotic organizations. His "Christy girl" appeared in many recruitment posters for the armed forces. I don't know about you, but I get some serious Han Solo/Princess Leia vibes from this one.
Also a cover artist for The Saturday Evening Post, Leyendecker was responsible for visualizing many of the enduring characters of popular culture: He was the first to illustrate Santa Claus as a jolly fat man in a red suit, for example, which has become the iconic representation in history. I see the Indiana Jones-era being evoked here, all the way.
Another area of Lucas's focus are illustrations for children's books. Tenniel was a British illustrator who was well known for his political and humor cartoons when he was tapped to bring Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass to life. Bringing his wit and sometimes rather adult humor to the stories worked to the books' favor, as they were able to appeal to a wide range of audiences, young and old. The same could be said for Lucas's films.
Another illustrator of children's stories, Jessie Wilcox Smith was an anomaly during the Golden Age of illustration because she was a woman—one of the only female artists to gain prominent financial and critical success. In addition to many advertisements and posters, she illustrated many pieces of classic literature, like Little Women and Heidi.
Another British illustrator from the same era, Rackham illustrated dozens of fairy tale books which would go on to become best-sellers around the world. Rackham was also known for employing early photographic techniques in his illustration work which gave them a photo-realistic look. You can definitely see Lucas's fairy-tale genre—Labyrinth, Willow—evoked in many of those storybook images.
A fan of comics and graphic novels, Lucas collects popular art of all kinds, including the satirical work created for MAD magazine during its heyday. Although he had a long career in advertising and editorial illustration, Mingo was best known for being tapped by MAD publisher William M. Gaines and editor Al Feldstein to create the character known as Alfred E. Neuman.
The Peruvian-born painter Vargas was renowned for his style of illustrating "pin-up girls" which became popular around the world. His illustration like this one of actress Kim Novak were highly idealized and mostly nude versions of women which became popular for being "pinned-up" on servicemen's walls during World War I and II. Vargas also illustrated many film posters which were known for their gauzy airbrushed quality.
It's no surprise that Lucas is a fan of traditional animation, owning several works from the Walt Disney Company (which would later acquire Lucasfilm, funnily enough). Barks worked as a cartoonist and animator at the Disney studios, and was best known for his cartoons and comics featuring Donald Duck and his extended family. Perhaps this acquisition led to the creation of Howard the Duck?
Visual Effects Supervisors: Tim Alexander, John Knoll Animation Director: Hal Hickel; Art Directors: John Bell, Aaron McBride;
Also included in the collection are works from the new era of digital animation, where the new breed of animation companies use completely different techniques to make characters live and breathe. Lucas has had a hand in nearly every aspect of the new animation movement: Pixar was first founded as a division of Lucasfilm and now ILM is moving into the animated film space, with Rango as its first full-length feature.
Attributed to Harry Lange, Construction drawings for Millennium Falcon cockpit, A New Hope™ & © 1977 Lucasfilm Ltd; ILM model shop, Lucasfilm Ltd., Millennium Falcon scale model, A New Hope™ & © 1977 Lucasfilm Ltd.
Among the Star Wars memorabilia included in the collection are gems like this: The original plans and model for the Millennium Falcon. Expect to see plenty of behind-the-scenes imagery and photographs from the production of the films, as well.
In addition to many of the vehicles—like this FULL SIZE speeder model!—Lucas also has plenty of other amazing Star Wars goods, like the original Darth Vader costume and a full-sized Yoda model.
Visual Effects Supervisor: Pablo Helman; Animation Supervisor: Dan Taylor; Art Director: Peter Mitchell Rubin
Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic helped usher films into the digital age, creating a new way for filmmakers to create their universes, like the groundbreaking visual effects for films like Terminator 3. In a way, Lucas's own technological advances have brought the idea of the "narrative arts" full circle—allowing the single image that tells a story to morph into a moving image that brings the story to life.
Lucas continues to collect the work of contemporary artists and designers including digital artists like Hu and fashion designers like Rodarte (who have said their work is inspired by Star Wars films). Who knows, this fantastical scene created as a digital painting by Hu may be the inspiration for a future world created by Lucas somewhere far, far away.
Top image: Cloud City, Ralph McQuarrie & Michael Pangrazio, The Empire Strikes Back TM & © 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd.