Constantine Alajalov (1900-1987)

Constantine Alajalov (1900-1987). New Yorker magazine cover illustration, May 26, 1945. Gouache on paper measures 10 x 14 inches. Signed lower margin. Excellent condition with no damage, fading, staining or restoration.

The May 26 issue closely followed V-E day, May 8, 1945, and appropriately the cover is an homage to American military personnel. The real subject is not the zoo. At the center of the lively image, three military officers survey their surroundings and the artist asks us to consider what they fought for. The pleasant goings-on of an ordinary day at the zoo are not to be taken for granted. The bird’s-eye view perspective is unusual for Alajalov. It is an efficient way to highlight the ideas of humanity and civility in a time when they had been threatened. This is what we fought for, the men might be thinking.



Constantin Alajálov (also Aladjalov) (18 November 1900 – 23 October 1987) was an American painter and illustrator.[1] He was born in Rostov, Russia and immigrated to New York City in 1923, becoming a US citizen in 1928. Many of his illustrations were the covers for The New YorkerThe Saturday Evening Post,[2] and Fortune.[3] He also illustrated many books, including the first edition of George Gershwin’s Song Book. His works are in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum. He died in Amenia, New York.

Constantin Alajálov was born in Rostov, Russia in 1900 and died in New York in 1987. In 1916, the Red Revolution broke out, interrupting Alajálov’s time at the University of Petrograd. Unable to stay, Alajálov joined a government organized group of artists. Traveling the countryside, they painted large propaganda murals and posters for the revolution. After this, Alajálov emigrated to Persia and again started painting for a revolution until no longer safe.

After his stay in Persia, Alajálov headed to Constantinople, his last stop before he emigrated to America at age 23. Getting a job was hard, but he finally landed one painting wall murals at a restaurant about to be opened by Russian Countess Anna Zarnekau. Within three years, Alajálov was selling his paintings to The New Yorker magazine, where his first cover appeared on September 25, 1926. He went on to create more than 70 covers for the magazine. He also designed rugs for New York artist and entrepreneur Ralph Pearson.

Alajálov’s first cover for the Saturday Evening Post appeared on October 6, 1945 (unusual at the time as he was also doing covers for The New Yorker, and both required exclusivity of their artists). His final cover was for the December 1, 1962 issue. That final cover portrayed an accomplished bridge player awakened from a dream, still analyzing her bridge hand.[4] Many of his Saturday Evening Post cover paintings can be viewed at The American Illustrators Hall of Fame in Indianapolis.

His papers are at Syracuse University,[5] and the Archives of American Art.[6] He bequeathed funding for a scholarship in his name to Boston University, which also maintains a collection of his photographs and scrapbooks. The Boston University holdings include a painting of Alajálov by George Gershwin.[7]

Birth place: Rostov, Russia

Addresses: New York, NY

Profession: Painter, illustrator

Studied: Univ Petrograd, Russia

Exhibited: Many nat’l exhibs; solo shows in Hollywood, Calif, New York & Dallas.

Member: Phila. WC Cl.

Work: Brooklyn Mus.; Phila. Mus Art; MoMA; Mus City New York; Soc. Anonyme; Dallas MFA. Commissions: Murals for S.S. America; The Hands of Leonard Bernstein, 1967; stage sets for Michael Mordkin’s Ballet and posters for many theatrical productions

Comments: Illustrator: George Gershwin’s Song Book, Alice Duer Miller’s Cinderella, Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, Nuts in May, Bottoms Up and others. He was the only artist to paint covers for both Sat. Eve. Post and New Yorker. Teaching: Phoenix Art Inst; Archipenko’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts.