Tuesday, January 14, 2014

T. M. Cleland's Elegant Designs

Thomas Maitland Cleland (1880-1964) was one of the first art directors and a designer skilled in virtually every aspect of publishing — fine art, graphic art, typography, writing, editing and printing. He was exacting and a perfectionist, and expected others to meet his own standards. And while he could frustrate others because of his demanding standards, he was also known for a good sense of humor.

American Type Founders Co.
T. M. Cleland entered The Artist-Artisan Institute of New York at age 15 and rose quickly in the printing world because of his fine sense of ornamentation.

Are you reading this, Gina?   |   American Type Founders Co.
Alfred A. Knopf was a great admirer of Cleland's work.

American Type Founders Co.
Do you remember the toy chests that my father decorated in my November posting of family photographs, here? He was inspired by the design above, by Cleland.

Cleland designed several typefaces. He's probably best known for Della Robbia, designed in 1903 and still in popular use today. Around the same time (1907-1908), he became the art director of McClure's Magazine and completely redesigned it.

Westvaco Paper Corporation
A hallmark of Cleland's advertising work is incredible attention to detail (which you'll also see in the paintings I share). Below is a detail from this Westvaco printing magazine ad.

click to enlarge
I find it interesting that Cleland imbued such tiny characters with personality, from the little boy on the left turning to talk to his mother, to the man on the right who appears to be hiding behind a tree!

Cleland created ads for many prestigious companies, including Cadillac. Here he appears to have painted Monte Carlo in the background.

This 1928 Cadillac ad is a masterpiece of composition, with the stairs and shadows all pointing to the car. Look at all the flat neutral planes, and then the reflectiveness of the car.

Westvaco Paper Corporation 
I like this Cadillac ad by Cleland for the wonderful Art Deco treatment of the trees. There's an expression in advertising that sometimes you sell the steak and sometimes you sell the sizzle. Here, the emphasis is not so much on the car as it is on an easy lifestyle.

click to enlarge   |   frankzumbach.wordpress.com
This image shows what a master of watercolor Cleland was — I believe it's entitled Romance.

click to enlarge   |   veatchs.com

click to enlarge   |   Westvaco Paper Corporation
Cleland seems to have excelled in painting panoramic views; above is a detail of a larger painting.

As its first art director, Cleland designed Fortune magazine, and illustrated its first cover. (Note that at the height of the Depression, Fortune cost one dollar!) Cleland also did a typographic redesign for Newsweek.

click to enlarge   |   princeton.edu
This delightful map shows Cleland's sense of humor, and I especially enjoy the wording of the map's cartouche.

This 1961 title page indicates that Cleland was in demand into his 80s, and I find it interesting that it harkens all the way back to his early printing ornament designs.

Thomas Maitland Cleland died in 1964, and in 1978 was elected to the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame.



  1. Hello Mark, You've done it again--introduced us to another classic illustrator. I probably have encountered Cleland's work before, but now that I know some of the hallmarks, I'll be on the alert.

    Coincidence of the day: Just before reading this post, I was recommending the book Monsieur Beaucaire to a friend. I love this book, although as a swashbuckler set in 18th century Bath, it does not have the usual Tarkington setting.

    And by the way, I love the button of the month--it looks like a miniature lens of some sort.

  2. Hello, Jim,

    I happened to save a bunch of old printing magazines when I worked at the newspaper, and in the process of reading, clipping and discarding, noticed that I was again and again attracted to works signed Cleland. Then I made the connection that many of the printing ornaments I like are also his work. And so a new file was born, and the makings of this posting. I love it when things come together like that.

    I'm glad you like that enameled button. It's rather smal, so I think it probably belonged to a vest . . .

  3. Dear Mark, Of course I'm reading this. I was going to claim the "G" before I noticed that you had given me the invite. Cleland's work is masterful. He tackled difficult scenes and subjects with ease. I especially like the European market scene. His "little people" are so perfect in scale and attitude.
    Cleland's ornaments are so pleasing in design. He has the appearance of a very elegant gentleman and so are his designs...elegant. Thank you for introducing us to yet another fine artist, an artist I didn't know anything about.

    1. Dear Gina,

      I'm glad you like that "G." I could picture initials like that incorporated into your ceramics.

      I've always been impressed with illustrators who give definition and personality to all the characters within a multitude. One doesn't see that today. Of course T. M. Cleland lived in a publishing period when deadlines for illustrators were much more generous.

  4. such an amazing artist! Your description is apt -Elegant.

    1. Hi, Stefan - I'm really drawn to illustration like this, where one can see fine draftsmanship.

  5. Dear Mark - I returned to your November post to see your father's interpretation of Cleland's work, and now realise even more what a wonderful job he did on the box.
    There is definitely a story going on between the people in most of the illustrations and paintings - greeting one another, taking photos of each other, children playing hide and seek, and even a couple in an embrace. I like the tiny fairy sitting at the top of the ships wheel with the zodiac signs running around the edge on the Fortune magazine cover.

    1. Dear Rosemary,

      I didn't mention it in the posting, but an illustrator who takes the time to so lovingly render so many incidental figures has obviously spent a lot of time studying anatomy.

      In my research of T. M. Cleland, I came across a statement by him in which he said that he didn't want to live a day longer than he was learning.

  6. Gorgeous work, art and design. I'd never heard of Cleland until now. Thanks for the introduction, Mark. Love his watercolors and those Cadillac ads - Monte Carlo, swoon.

    1. Hi, Yvette,

      As I said to Jim of Road to Parnassus, I have started to keep a file on Cleland. I'm counting on that phenomenon whereby after one's noticed something, he starts to encounter it again and again!

  7. Amazing work by this master!! Thanks for the introduction, Mark. The Cadillac ad is very impressive - it really draws me in. So dynamic, grand and glamorous. I quite like the rendering of the groin vault ceiling.

    1. Hi, Loi,

      The Cadillac Motor Company must have liked that groin vault ceiling, too, because Cleland painted at least one more Cadillac ad with similar vaulting.

  8. You're right, Mark, the Cadillac ad is an incredible. It's a great learning tool on composition. I also notice that in almost every scene, there are characters with outstretched arms. That seems to give the scene a great deal of energy.

    1. Hi, Steve,

      Another thought I had when I was studying that Cadillac ad was that Cleland was probably well versed in the work of Piranesi. Those great vaults are reminiscent of Piranesi's fantastic perspectives.

  9. Elegant designs by an elegant man ..naming a type face after the Della Robbias only adds to his mystique

    1. Happy New Year, smr! Elegance and mystique, a fine combination.