The Philadelphia Museum of Art holds the largest and most comprehensive collection of prints and drawings by the pioneering American artist, illustrator, and feminist Wanda Gág. Gág is perhaps best remembered today as the author and illustrator of the innovative and beloved picture book, Millions of Cats (1928), the oldest children’s book still in print in the United States. Less familiar are Gág’s accomplishments as a highly skilled and sensitive graphic artist, one who trained at the Art Students’ League, displayed in one-person shows in leading New York art galleries, and blazed a trail as an emphatically modern, politically engaged, and independent artist across the 1920s and ‘30s.
During these years, Gág devoted much of her practice to drawing, a commitment captured in the personal motto she recorded in her diary: “draw to live, live to draw.” The museum’s extensive collection of her sketchbooks, pencil drawings, watercolors, and ink drawings on sandpaper attests to the fact that Gág did just that. While her subjects may be charmingly familiar—from garden vegetables, to lamp shades, to sleeping cats—Gag’s drawing style makes them vibrate with a palpable intensity, as if drawing itself animates the objects depicted. As the artist herself once put it, “a still life is never still to me;” in Gág’s world, drawing makes ordinary things spring to life.