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Classic Covers: The Art of J.F. Kernan

An athlete and outdoorsman, artist Joseph Francis Kernan was known as the “poor man’s Norman Rockwell.” But Kernan was a superb illustrator in his own right.

During the 1920s and ’30s, J.F. Kernan (1878-1958) illustrated nearly 30 Post covers. Some, such as his beautiful 1927 cover (below), depicted the seaside or old sailors.

Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, Joseph Francis Kernan attended the Eric Pape School of Art in Boston and later taught at the school before embarking on his art career.

His art featured, as he described it, “the human side of outdoor sports, hunting, fishing, and dogs.”

From humor back to his outdoorsman passions, one of Kernan’s finest works is this fisherman tying a fly from 1929. The color palette is subtle but stunning, and the rippling water looks good enough to jump into.

His work also appeared on covers of major magazines of the time, including The Country Gentleman, Outdoor Life, and Collier’s Liberty.

Like most illustrators of this era, Kernan did artwork for ads. All of his art varied from the picturesque to wry comic situations.

His baseball cover, for example, is picturesque, but in the ad from 1926 for Fisk Tires we have a couple of boys about to get in trouble for watching a game through a peephole instead of paying admission—not an uncommon theme for the 1920s.

(Interestingly, baseball was not just a mere spectator sport for Kernan. He helped finance his art education for a period of time as a professional baseball player.)

Private Letter from December 4, 1920

"Private Letter"
from December 4, 1920

Another theme illustrators enjoyed was the nosy post office worker (or neighbor or party-line sharer).

You can see the theme in Kernan’s 1920 cover for the Post‘s sister publication, The Country Gentleman.

If you’re familiar with Post covers, you’ll also notice that there’s some resemblance in Kernan’s early artwork to his contemporary, Norman Rockwell.

In this cover it is 1922, and one supposes there must be a downside to women getting the vote.

Reprints of The Saturday Evening Post covers are available at Art.com.

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  • While we enjoy learning and teaching about Post artists, we are not appraisers. You could check with an art gallery in your area or check on Art.com.

  • Michael J. Kanel

    I have aquired an original painting “Merry Christmas” By JF Kernan,showing a baby & a puppy licking the baby’s face. It is signed both on the front of the painting and on the back of the painting. For insurance purposes any idea what it is worth. Any help would be appreciated. I do not belong to any (pay for) artist reference services. I have no intention of selling the painting. Thank you in advance for any help you may be able to provide.

    Sincerely,

    Michael J. Kanel
    Tlclass@vermontel.net

  • I love all of Kernan’s covers, AND the Fisk Tire ad. The lady on the Country Gentleman cover looks like she’s getting close to possibly hitting the polling guy with her purse. On Tying on a Fly I love the way the water is “spilling out” to the bottom of the cover.

  • Charles Neumann

    Excellent covers. Mr. Kernan was an excellent artist. While I enjoyed all the covers shown, my favorite was the ad for Fisk Tires. That was very clever, having the ad just a part of a larger “story”. That ad would have made an excellent Post cover, he could have replaced the Fisk tire ad with one for the Saturday Evening Post.

  • Jan

    What a fine artist. Thanks for introducing me to him. His colors weren’t very vivid but his imagination was!

  • Brings back wonderful memories. So glad I’m subscribing again. Fine Magazine !!!