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Finlay, Virgil

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Artist.

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(1914-1971) American artist, sometimes credited simply as Finlay. After studying art in high school and working at various odd jobs, this prolific artist began his career with an interior illustration for the December 1935 issue of Weird Tales and eventually produced several thousand pieces of black-and-white interior work for various magazines; he also painted many magazine covers, including sixteen for Weird Tales, twenty-four for Famous Fantastic Mysteries, and twenty-five for Fantastic Universe. Among the other magazines he worked for were Fantastic Novels, Astounding Science-Fiction, Planet Stories, Startling Stories, and Thrilling Wonder Stories. Outside the genre, he did twenty-five illustrations for a 1935 edition of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream for Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright, and he worked several years as an illustrator for A Merritt's The American Weekly. In the 1950s, while other artists adjusted to the collapse of SF-Magazine publishing by painting book covers, Finlay had little success in this arena, though he did several covers for juvenile sf novels from World Publishing. For the most part, however, Finlay shifted his attention to astrological illustrations, which along with occasional covers for Galaxy and If constituted his main source of income in the late 1950s and 1960s. A 1970 operation for cancer limited his productivity and contributed to his death from cirrhosis of the liver in 1971. In addition to his artwork, Finlay also wrote poetry throughout his life, but almost all of his poems were only published posthumously.

While he worked in both colour and black-and-white, Finlay is best known for the latter work, where his unique, painstaking stippling brought him fame although, because of the slow process involved, not fortune. His frequently reprinted illustration for the 1940 republication of Merritt's "The Snake Mother" (25 October-6 December 1930 Argosy; fixup with "The Face in the Abyss" [1923] as The Face in the Abyss 1931) in the November 1940 issue of Fantastic Novels, showing an enormous statue of a naked woman with a snakelike head, is but one of many fine examples of his technique. Among other distinctive features, Finlay interior's art often included sparkling bubbles, which were not only decorative but also served to modestly conceal parts of naked women. He was stronger in fantasy than sf, excelling (as is both common and paradoxical) in the two extremes of the glamorous and the macabre, always meticulously executed. His early work seemed more abstractly stylized and tougher than his later efforts, suggesting to some that experience had imposed a commercial veneer upon his once-unconventional approach.

Possibly the greatest craftsman in the history of sf Illustration, Finlay revolutionized its quality; before he emerged, cover artists like Frank R Paul may have garnered followings, but Finlay and his contemporaries Hannes Bok and Edd Cartier established that interior art could be equally distinctive and memorable, and they helped to foster the now-commonplace view that sf art merits independent attention, instead of consideration merely as an appendage to prose fiction. The Hugo Awards arrived a little late for Finlay; though he was nominated seven times, he won only once, in their very first year, 1953 – the only award ever given for Best Interior Illustration. As partial recompense, he was awarded a Retro Hugo in 1996 as the best illustrator of 1946, and he was named a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2012. Many compilations of his artwork have been published (see checklist below), and his illustrations have been included in some recent republications of sf classics. [JG/PN/GW]

Virgil Warden Finlay

born New York: 23 July 1914

died New York: 18 January 1971


This listing excludes compilations by non-American publishers.


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