The visit

The “Saul Steinberg, Visual Writing” exhibition including nearly 135 works, documents and archives is on view on the first floor of the Tomi Ungerer Museum – International Center of Illustration.

The visit is divided into six sections with eleven subsections thematically unveiling Steinberg’s rich collection of works. Works by other illustrators who were influenced by Steinberg are an integral part of the visit, contextualizing the era and shedding light on today’s creation.

Three films will be projected non-stop as an additional feature to the visit :
Daniela ROMAN and Thierry FONTAINE, La ligne de Steinberg, AAPA. 2008. 26 minutes
Peter KASSOVITZ, Saul Steinberg, ORTF, 1966, 14 minutes
Steinberg, “Du Cote de chez les Maeght”, ORTF, emission broadcast on 7/10/1973, 14 minutes with a sonorous background composed of extracts:
“Portrait of Hitch”, from Alfred HITCHCOCK’s movie. The Trouble with Harry. 1955 UNIVERSAL music by Bernard HERRMAN. 2 minutes; extract from Violostries by Bernard PARMEGIANI. 1964.
INA-GRM, 2mn.

The exhibition includes the following sections:


Another teacher, for me, was the family album. There were pictures of relatives—uncles and aunts, cousins, grandparents, great-grandparents…These photographs were my first models. (Saul Steinberg and Aldo Buzzi. Ombres et reflets. Paris. Christian Bourgois Editor. 2002. pp.15-16 )

Several series of photographs taken by Steinberg’s friends in addition to drawings are on view during the exhibition. Robert Doisneau, Irving Penn, Stefan Moses and Inge Morath reveal a portrait of the artist and his work.
Exceptional loan: an exquisite corpse drawing made with Picasso in 1958, which marks Steinberg’s meeting with Picasso and his fascination for surrealist games.

Magazine drawings

The New Yorker represents my political world. It is my duty. It allows me to express subversive politics. (Saul Steinberg, Art in America. 1970)

Saul Steinberg began his career publishing cartoons for Italian humor tabloids, especially Settebello and Bertoldo. His drawings were connotative of an era, analogous to Maurice Henry or Dubout. He immigrated to the United States in 1942, where he contributed to The New Yorker, the prestigious magazine which made cartoonists and illustrators such as Chas Addams, James Thurber, and Peter Arno famous. There, he developed a process of one-line drawing, or drawings consisting of a single line, with or without captions. He diversified this technique to include letters, numbers and symbols, becoming true puzzles to which he added color and collage. Altogether, Steinberg produced nearly 1,200 drawing for the magazine. In addition to the drawing for the June 6, 1970 cover, with rubber-stamped figures from Millet’s The Angelus, other covers as well as drawings for inside articles are on display..

Sub-section: first drawings for The New Yorker

Visual writing and forged papers

Sudden infatuation, obsessive repetition: Steinberg thinks of nothing but the fingerprint, seeing it everywhere metaphorically speaking, in a thousand forms both unexpected and plausible: the round striated imprint of passports and police files becomes the favored painting on an easel, a face, landscape, cloud, hill, etc. (Roland Barthes. All except you, Paris. Galerie Maeght. Edition Repères. Collection Edition d’art, 1083, p.30)

From the forties onward Steinberg tried his hand at several graphic styles drawn on a single sheet of paper. “I am a writer who draws” he was known to say and a series of drawings repeatedly making use of hatchings dots, lines, etc. reveal this experimentation with personal calligraphy. It was an exploration that lent itself to forgery: from his years in exile beginning in 1941, when he fled fascist Italy, Steinberg evokes the governmental and bureaucratics obsession for stamps and fingerprints: he twists the obsession around, so that his own fingerprints and fabricated stamps become new motifs in his iconographical repertory of archetypes—such as the man standing, the walking man, the Indian with a spear, woman, as well as simple geometries. The stamp becomes the pretext for a game about forgery and disguise. Thus Steinberg begins drawing diplomas, passports, letters and all sorts of official documents that he gives to his friends, authorizing them, if the need should arise, to exercise their craft of painter and sculptor (Giacometti), photographer (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sigrid Spaeth) and architect (Le Corbusier).

Sub-section: visual writing, forged documents, literature and music


A mask represents how people want to project themselves, what they want to be. An individual’s life can be divided into two parts: emotional, physical, intimate life and political and social life, when we come in contact with others and must constantly present ourselves as we’re expected. You are always expected to wear the same facial expression to reassure people. People are shocked when you don’t look like yourself anymore or when you loose or gain weight.  (Saul Steinberg. Le Masque. texts by Michel Butor and Harold Rosenberg. Photographs by Inge Morath, Paris, Maeght Editor, 1966. n.p.)

A mixture of poetry and enigma, trompe-l’œil was of particular interest for Steinberg. If he excelled in the production of forged documents, he also enjoyed adding ink-drawn human figures on  diverse and banal objects (benches, lamps, chairs, bathtubs, moving boxes). In the late sixties, Steinberg began to further explore trompe-l’œil sculpture, something he describes as “museum caricatures”. He created wooden drawing tables in trompe-l’œil, with carved objects – a fake Leica, false matchboxes or crayons – and drawings and collages. Steinberg creates masks from brown paper shopping bags, which are more about social types than trompe-l’oeil or caricature: “The mask is not a portrait but a sort of prototype. Making us seem permanently optimistic”. He added: “A mask represents how people want to project themselves, what they’d like to be.” The illusion of appearances takes on the same sort of meaning with metamorphoses of humans into animal, or vice versa. Steinberg’s favorite animal, the cat, often figured in his drawing, adopting a human face and attitude.

Sub-section: trompe-l’œil, man-animal, masks


As a former child, it is an honor for me to realize that during my lifetime I have actually been in countries or on oceans and rivers that I have seen on a planisphere or read about in Jules Verne. (Steinberg, interview with Jean Frémon. Paris. Galerie Maeght Lelong, Repères. Cahiers d’art contemporain, no. 30, 1986, p.18).

Saul Steinberg’s “landscapes” are both interiors and exteriors. The artist took inspiration from the many different environments in which he lived: his youth in Bucharest, young manhood in Italy, and adult years in the U.S., along with numerous trips to Europe, Africa, and Asia. Architecture remained a constant theme throughout his work. America, however, was his preferred theme, seen through his critical eye in satirical renditions of streets and cocktail parties replete with prototypical characters. The zenith of this exploration of his adopted country is a work created for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels entitled “The Americans,” which presents a panorama of American society and its stereotypes and codes. A reproduction of one of the mural’s eight panels is on display at the museum, Downtown – Big City. Copies of The New Yorker, documents from archives of the era complement the presentation of original drawings.

Sub-section: landscapes and architectures, design and interiors, America


Giants of illustration Jean Bosc, Chaval and André François recognize Saul Steinberg as an incontestable master. Three examples of their work that treat social interchange with synthetic and expressive line show a taste for absurd and offbeat situations. Ronald Searle, Jean-Jacques Sempé and Tomi Ungerer have given graphic arts of the late 20th century some of its most remarkable works. A special place has been set aside for Pierre Etaix (born in 1928), man of cinema and circus, anillustrator who gaily practiced the burlesque and visual gags. Christian Antonelli, Philippe Geluck and Sergueï represent a new generation of cartoonist-illustrators. They have developed a caustic, satirical vision of modern society using modes of expression that, while sometimes quite different from each other, all share a love of the line.