A whimsical turn of the last century illustration, this watercolor and gouache painting by John Frederick (Fred) Nankivel is a delightful piece of childhood fantasy. With soft, neutral tones that capture the ethereal play of sunlight pressing through the water’s surface, it is a beautiful contrast to the murky underwater environment. Two young “merchildren”, a boy and a girl, play in the shallows with their domesticated fish – a catfish hissing from its perch on a large growth of seaweed and a “dogfish” tugging on his leash. This was published in the November 1904 edition of Harper’s Monthly Magazine (Volume 109) as part of the “Editor’s Drawer”, it was titled “Submarine Pets” with a caption that read, “MERMAID. ‘Boo! hoo! hoo!––don’t let your dogfish bite my catfish!'”
This has been nicely matted and awaits framing, and has been signed and dated by the artist in the upper right corner. A library book- bound copy of “Harper’s Monthly Magazine that features this illustration, Volume CIX, June 1904 to November 1904” is included with the sale.
JOHN FREDERICK NANKIVEL
Nankivel, born in Iowa in 1876, grew up in Bushnell, not too far from Peoria, Illinois, where his father had an art and photography gallery. John studied art at the University of Illinois and later at the Art Students League in New York City, then he moved to the artists’ colony in Leonia, New Jersey. There he was involved with the Lyceum Group of Leonia for whom he wrote and directed plays.
Nankivel was also an illustrator for Harper’s, Scribner’s, and the original Life magazines, and he became known for his characterization of Uncle Mun in the New York Herald. His painting The Fishermen (Private collection) shows a rich use of impasto but no systematic use of broken color.
Nankivel died in New York City in 1950.