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van Dongen

Entry updated 13 May 2024. Tagged: Artist.

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Working name of American artist Henry Richard van Dongen (1920-2010), at times also credited as H R van Dongen. He received extensive artistic training at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Woodbury Ross School of Painting before going to work as an artist, initially specializing in advertising and retouching photographs. He entered the sf field with the cover of the September 1950 issue of Super Science Stories, but he quickly became a major artist for Astounding Science-Fiction, painting over 40 covers, beginning with the August 1951 issue, along with many interior illustrations. (A few of his covers appeared after the magazine had been retitled Analog in 1960.) He also painted covers for Worlds Beyond, Space Science Fiction, and Science Fiction Adventures. Van Dongen's style was very distinctive, with muted colours and gaunt, angular people, sometimes rendered in extreme close-up; at times, he would also foreground Spaceships or unusual Aliens. His emphasis on realistic portraiture, with minimal aspects of the fantastic, perfectly matched editor John W Campbell's ongoing desire to have his magazine look more dignified than its competitors. One distinctive example of his work, for the cover of the November 1958 issue of Astounding, showed a bored-looking sea captain conversing at a table with a gray-skinned alien. Another imaginative effort, for the cover of the February 1952 issue, illustrated William Tenn's "Firewater" by showing a vagrant hovering in the air with a misty face in the background; it was later reused as the cover of Tenn's retrospective collection Immodest Proposals: The Complete Science Fiction of William Tenn, Volume 1 (coll 2001).

Van Dongen left the genre in the early 1960s following a move to Canandaigua, New York State, out of easy reach of the Analog office in New York; for a short while his paintings were sent in via Greyhound bus, but van Dongen found more convenient and perhaps profitable work in commercial architectural and advertising illustrations. He returned to sf in 1976 as a result of a conversation with Lester del Rey at Ballantine Books, who had called to ask his permission to reproduce his covers in a book he was preparing called Fantastic Science Fiction Art 1926-1954 (1976). Appropriately enough, one of his first covers was for a collection of fiction by his longtime employer Campbell, The Best of John W. Campbell (coll 1976), featuring a tentacled alien sitting on a cushioned throne in front of others of his kind. This cover adumbrated the somewhat different approach he would take during his next decade of work for Ballantine/Del Rey Books and DAW Books, featuring brighter colours and, at times, an understated sense of humour; one doubts, for example, that Campbell would have wholeheartedly approved of his cover for Fredric Brown's collection The Best of Fredric Brown (1977), showing a Mouse in a bright red spacesuit standing proudly amidst a throng of tiny people, or his cover for a 1979 edition of James White's Hospital Station (coll of linked stories 1962), wherein a flying brontosaurus (see Dinosaurs) munches on palm trees – though this is faithful to the story in question. But other covers, like his portrait of an astronaut contemplating a tiny Earth for Brian Stableford's The Castaways of Tanagar (1981), seemed very much in his classic style. Van Dongen also produced a few more covers for Analog before retiring in 1987. After retirement, his only genre-related activities involved serving as a judge for the Illustrators of the Future contests (see Writers of the Future Contest). Though best known for his sf paintings, he personally preferred to draw landscapes; none of this work was sold. [JG/PN/GW/DRL]

Henry Richard van Dongen

born Rochester, New York: 20 August 1920

died Canandaigua, New York: 27 February 2010


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