Umbrellas In Art And Storytelling

Umbrellas In Art And Storytelling

The oldest umbrellas, as we know them today, were used not to keep off the rain but to avoid the sun.

The basic umbrella was invented more than 4,000 years ago. There is evidence of umbrellas in the ancient art and artifacts of Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and China.

These ancient umbrellas or parasols were first designed to provide shade from the sun.

Thought.co
Parasols by Rea Irvin (1881-1972)
Parasols by Rea Irvin (1881-1972)
Luisa Polo, 1926. This umbrella is reminiscent of the Japanese flag.
from Japanese publication Shukan Shincho
from Japanese publication Shukan Shincho

Umbrellas feature heavily in East Asian art (and life), partly because of the heavy rainy season which, unlike my hometown in the South Island of New Zealand, falls hard without the accompanying wind. Umbrellas are a good choice.

Parasols feature large in 19th and 20th century art featuring white women, too, back when being ‘fair’ meant being very white. Parasols were a fashion accessory.

William John Hennessy - The Japanese Parasol 1890
William John Hennessy – The Japanese Parasol 1890
Gustave Caillebotte (French painter) ‘The Painter under His Parasol’, 1878
Poster by Domenico Natoli, a.k.a. Scapin, circa 1925 Rapallo: Riviera Ligure Italia
Umberto Brunelleschi, 1879-1949
George Wolfe Plank (1883–1965) December 1913 illustration for Vogue magazine umbrella
George Wolfe Plank (1883–1965) December 1913 illustration for Vogue magazine
Illustration for the French magazine ′La Vie Parisienne′ by Chéri Hérouard (1881-1961) umbrella
Illustration for the French magazine ′La Vie Parisienne′ by Chéri Hérouard (1881-1961)
Marie-Madeleine FRANC-NOHAIN [1878-1942] Alphabet In Pictures 1933
Country Gentleman Magazine April 1948 cover art by Austin Briggs
Country Gentleman Magazine April 1948 cover art by Austin Briggs

In the composition of an illustration, the umbrella is super useful. It provides a frame to draw ta viewer’s eye. In this way, it functions as another kind of archway, heavily utilised by artists.

1948 illustration from Pitschi written & illustrated by Hans Fischer umbrella
1948 illustration from Pitschi written & illustrated by Hans Fischer
Pixie Market illustration by Lorna Steele
Josef Paleček, 1980
Garden in Grez 1883 by Carl Larsson

A Hula-Hooping moose, a badger with a bumblebee umbrella, a rabbit in a cashmere sweater, and a very wet bear star in this unpredictable and laugh-out-loud picture book in which having fun gets the best of a grumpy bear.

It looks like a wet and dreary day for Bear and his trio of friends. How could he possibly have fun when he is soaked? But Badger, Rabbit, and Moose don’t seem to mind. In fact, Moose can still hula hoop! And it looks like so much fun. Might Bear like to try?

Here is a story that shows that fun is not dependent on sunshine and blue skies. In fact, it might be more fun to be soaked!

Mushrooms and toadstools have such a strange shape that in the golden age of fairies, they featured large in children’s illustration, used variously as houses, seats, tables, and sometimes umbrellas.

Illustration by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite from CHIMNEY TOWN – 1934
The Large Kathe Kruse Picture Book 1940s. A German picture book made with photographs of dolls.
Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, also known as Ida Sherbourne Rentoul and Ida Sherbourne Outhwaite
Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, also known as Ida Sherbourne Rentoul and Ida Sherbourne Outhwaite
Molly Brett (1902- 1990) ‘Rabbits sheltering from the snow under an umbrella’
Molly Brett (1902- 1990) ‘Rabbits sheltering from the snow under an umbrella’
‘The Umbrella.’ (1883) Marie Bashkirtseff Ukranian painter
Frederick Carl Frieseke 1920s

The connection between mushrooms and umbrellas is clear. Grandville’s image below goes further.

Grandville A walk in the sky A Stroll in the Sky, The Picturesque Store, 1847
Grandville A walk in the sky A Stroll in the Sky, The Picturesque Store, 1847

There is a strong connection between the umbrella and the circus, and the circus often indicates the carnivalesque. Umbrellas ostensibly help a tightrope walker to maintain balance. (Is that actually true?) I suspect it simply provides the tightrope walker a little false reassurance, that the umbrella would function as a mini parachute should they fall.

From Do you know Pippi Longstocking (1947) by Astrid Lindgren illustrated by Ingrid Vang Nyman (1916-1959) circus
From Do you know Pippi Longstocking (1947) by Astrid Lindgren illustrated by Ingrid Vang Nyman (1916-1959)
Rockwell Kent Vanity Fair magazine May 1923
Rockwell Kent Vanity Fair magazine May 1923

Umbrellas offer the possibility of magical flight, which equals freedom.

A cursed girl escapes death and finds herself in a magical world – but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks–and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It’s then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart – an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests – or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.

The umbrella allows a young child freedom, to go outside and play, even in the rain. They are also associated with beach scenes, all good fun. An umbrella in the bath is comically ridiculous.

Gyo Fujikawa
Ernest Shepherd Winnie the Pooh
Le parasol a la terrasse de Morgat, Henri Lebasque, 1924
Le parasol a la terrasse de Morgat, Henri Lebasque, 1924
from John Goodall’s ‘Edwardian’ illustrated books series
Jean-Jacques Sempe 1957
Mr Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham London Travel poster
Mr Gumpy’s Outing by John Burningham London Travel poster
Norman Rockwell’s Gone Fishing 1930 Evening Post cover
Arthur William Brown (1881-1966)
James Tissot holding umbrellas on a small ship
James Tissot
by Victoria Anopolska for the ‘Underground Unites’ series of paintings
for the London Underground, this by Ashling Lindsey ‘And it Poured’
1957 My Own Little House Merriman Kaune Follett Begin to Read 1959
American illustrator Maginal Wright Enright (1881-1966) for Woman’s Home Companion 1927
Vladimir Lyubarov umbrellas
Vladimir Lyubarov
Mary Blair, 1953
Beatrix Potter
David Martiashvili
Le Courrier Français, illustration by Henri Pille, 1888
Albrecht Samuel Anker (April 1, 1831 – July 16, 1910) was a Swiss painter and illustrator who has been called the “national painter” of Switzerland
Yoshio Markino (Japanese,1874-1956) - Autumn, c.1904 umbrella
Yoshio Markino (Japanese, 1874-1956) – Autumn, c.1904
Pierre Edouard Frère (French, 1819–1886) Going To School
1913 Hulp voor Onbehuisden, Help for the Homeless, Secessionist style poster
Gramophone advertisement Illustrated by John Hassall (1868-1948) umbrella
Gramophone advertisement Illustrated by John Hassall (1868-1948)
JUFFROUW SPITS OP REIS [c. 1948] Piet Broose time train umbrella
JUFFROUW SPITS OP REIS [c. 1948] Piet Broose
A Morning Walk umbrella pre 1925 illustration from book called Queer Pet by Mollie Brown, art by Jacques Browne
Eugen Hartung
Illustration from the cover of La Vie Parisienne Magazine by George Pavis 1920s umbrella
Illustration from the cover of La Vie Parisienne Magazine by George Pavis 1920s
Carlos Marchiori Illustrations for Edith Fowke – Sally Go Round The Sun 300 Songs, Rhymes and Games of Canadian Children (1969)
John Burningham London travel poster for London Transport Museum
John Burningham London travel poster for London Transport Museum
Inge Look
Inge Look
1985
Janusz Stanny - The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen
Janusz Stanny – The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen
1955
Frederick Schneider Manner for London underground, 1929 umbrellas
Frederick Schneider Manner for London underground, 1929
BIG GREEN UMBRELLA 1944
Russian illustration
There’s Going To Be A Baby written by John Burningham illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Symbolically, like the child characters using an umbrella in the bath, they can be used to visually convey the idea that small measures make no difference in a deluge of problems. In English we use ‘Band-aid’ in a similar way, as in ‘Band-aid over a gaping wound’. The umbrella is less gory.

CHARLES DANA GIBSON New Cartoons
Hercules Against The Elements
Hercules Against The Elements
Gerhard Glück (German, b.1944) - Cats & Dogs umbrella
Gerhard Glück (German, b.1944) – Cats & Dogs.
Swedish illustrator Oskar Andersson (1877-1906) Mannen som gör hvad som faller honom in (the man who does whatever comes into his head)
Swedish illustrator Oskar Andersson (1877-1906) Mannen som gör hvad som faller honom in (the man who does whatever comes into his head)
GREAT DAY IN NORWAY THE SEVENTEENTH OF MAY (1962) Malvin Neset umbrella
GREAT DAY IN NORWAY THE SEVENTEENTH OF MAY (1962) Malvin Neset
DE DIERKUNDIGE DICHTOEFENINGEN VAN TRIJNTJE FOP (1955) Bertram umbrella
DE DIERKUNDIGE DICHTOEFENINGEN VAN TRIJNTJE FOP (1955) Bertram. Honestly, I don’t even know what this is.
“The April Umbrella” by Priscilla and Otto Friedrich, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin, Oliver and Boyd 1965
“The April Umbrella” by Priscilla and Otto Friedrich, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin, Oliver and Boyd 1965
The Field Fourth Reader by Walter Taylor Field, published by Ginn and Co., 1925. Illustrated by Marguerite Davis and Rodney Thomson
Boris Kalaushin
Umbrella by Taro Yashima
Umbrella by Taro Yashima
Umbrella by Taro Yashima
Umbrella by Taro Yashima
Umbrella by Taro Yashima

If anyone’s ever tried jumping from a high space holding an umbrella you’ll already be aware that the umbrella won’t make you float softly onto the earth. It cowardly turns itself inside out, leaving you to crash land. Perhaps these boy had been to the circus and seen the tightrope walker use one.

 Kids Practising Parachuting in Hay Loft by  Steven Dohanos
Kids Practising Parachuting in Hay Loft by Steven Dohanos

When an umbrella works it’s pretty impressive. But there are few things more pathetic looking than a broken umbrella. They can look almost batlike.

Saturday Evening Post cover by Ellen Pyle umbrella
Saturday Evening Post cover by Ellen Pyle umbrella
‘Under the Umbrella’ Cover and illustrations by Morelli, Testatine and Finalini, 1941
Émile Munier (French, 1840-1895)

Umbrellas have other practical uses, especially for the hook at the end. As storytellers, the options are endless.

Garth Williams for Do You Know What I'll Do by Charlotte Zolotow 1958 umbrella
Garth Williams for Do You Know What I’ll Do by Charlotte Zolotow 1958 umbrella
Heath Robinson
Georges Pavis (1924) umbrella
Georges Pavis (1924)
Jeanna Bauck (Swedish painter) 1840 - 1926 owl umbrella
Jeanna Bauck (Swedish painter) 1840 – 1926. By giving the owl shelter beneath an umbrella, he now seems anthropomorphised.
Harrison Cady (1877-1970, American) mouse
Harrison Cady (1877-1970, American) mouse
a postcard with a postmark from Baltimore in 1914
a postcard with a postmark from Baltimore in 1914
Il giornalino della Domenica cover by Della Valle, 1906 umbrella goose dog
Il giornalino della Domenica cover by Della Valle, 1906

UMBRELLAS WHERE YOU DON’T EXPECT THEM

Jean Helion 'Mannequinerie en solde' 1978
Jean Helion ‘Mannequinerie en solde’ 1978
Italian Landscape with Umbrella Pines, Hendrik Voogd (the Dutch Claude), 1807
Italian Landscape with Umbrella Pines, Hendrik Voogd (the Dutch Claude), 1807
My Happy Life Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson
Lemon girl young adult novella

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Header art by Theodore Levigne (1848 – 1912).