Daily Features

The Paris Review: 60 Years of Substance and Style

Since its founding in 1953, cover design has helped define the cultural significance of The Paris Review

By Anne Quito, Superscript January 30, 2014

It’s a rare sighting these days. In its early years, a rather affable-looking eagle donning a bonnet rouge had a permanent perch on the upper left hand corner of the Paris Review cover. Designed by its first art editor, William Pène du Bois, the emblem heralds the quarterly’s French-American roots. The Review was founded in 1953 by a group of American expatriate writers living in Paris and has since established itself as a premier venue for a stellar succession of literary voices including Jack Kerouac, V.S. Naipaul, and Samuel Beckett, just to name a few.

The Paris Review Issue 1, Spring 1953 (left). Street artist JR created a portrait of George Plimpton for The Paris Review Issue 204, Spring 2013 (right). © The Paris Review
The Paris Review No. 186, Fall 2008 (left). Larry Rivers broke the traditional cover grid for The Paris Review Issue 27, Winter–Spring 1962 (right). © The Paris Review 
The Paris Review Issue 37, Spring 1966 (left). The Paris Review Issue 32, Summer-Fall 1964 (right). © The Paris Review
Chris Gallagher’s Fly By (II) adorns the cover of The Paris Review Issue 169, Spring 2004 (left). Many of the covers from the 1960s featured abstract art like The Paris Review Issue 40, Winter–Spring 1967 (right). © The Paris Review
Book designer Chip Kidd redesigned the cover layout in the 1990s to minimize text and feature larger art, including The Paris Review Issue 140, Fall 1996 (left). The Paris Review Issue 81, Fall 1981 (right). © The Paris Review 
The Paris Review Issue 103, Summer 1987 (left). The Paris Review Issue 82, Winter 1981 (right). © The Paris Review
Photography plays a larger role in cover art in later issues including The Paris Review Issue 178, Fall 2006 (left). The Paris Review Issue 173, Spring 2005 (right). © The Paris Review
Keith Haring’s design for The Paris Review Issue 85, Fall 1982 (left). The Paris Review Issue 165, Spring 2003 (right). © The Paris Review
The Paris Review Issue 203, Winter 2012 (left). Many early issues of The Paris Review included scenes from around Paris like this boat from Issue 5, Spring 1954 (right). © The Paris Review
Several modern iterations of The Paris Review’s cover design like Issue 206, Fall 2013 (left), by art director Charlotte Strick, who redesigned the magazine in 2010, brought back elements of the original layout. The Paris Review Issue 180, Spring 2007 (right). © The Paris Review
The Paris Review Issue 72, Winter 1977 (left). The Paris Review Issue 88, Summer 1983 (right). © The Paris Review

Over the last six decades, the journal’s format has gone through significant style revolutions and revivals. Like a spy in multiple guises from its alleged cloak-and-dagger past, its masthead shape-shifts from serif to sans serif and back again and the number of pages shrinks and expands. For the cover of issue 204—the publication’s 60th anniversary issue—the editors commissioned the mysterious French photographer/street artist JR to flypost a wall in Paris’s 11th arrondissement with a giant portrait of George Plimpton, a symbolic homecoming for the magazine’s legendary founding editor. Like the diversity of stories in each issue, the Review has featured a wide range of visual modes by established and emerging artists on its covers—illustration, conceptual art, painting and photography—“blithely serious and seriously blithe,” to borrow from the words of current editor, Lorin Stein.

The Book

Showcasing this eclectic array of art prominently on its covers is a point of pride for the Review, which, as with its literary aspirations, sought to expose new artists to broader audiences. Among the artists to design covers are Keith Haring, David Hockney, printmaker Mario Avati, Alain Jacquet, Larry Rivers, illustrator Tom Keogh, and Lucio Fontana. Beyond commissioning cover art, The Paris Review established a Print Series in 1964 that allowed the publication to produce artwork by artists including Andy Warhol, Sol LeWitt, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, and many others. This tradition continues today following a hiatus after Plimpton’s death in 2003.

The interior of Aesop's New York City boutique features the cover art of The Paris Review. © Aesop

The Review’s cover has inspired several design tributes—including the interior of the Australian beauty brand Aesop’s shop in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, which features a lively ceiling canopy assembled from back issues of the Review, and a limited-edition line of swim trunks sold at Barney’s New York—asserting the broad reach of the magazine’s cultural significance.

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