Bring on Your Dragons!, hails from an unusually rare series of artworks created by Ted Geisel in the mid-1930s. These fully-developed paintings were Ted’s largest color project up to that moment in his career. They mirror the style, look, and feel of his art deco period, featuring works with heavy black backgrounds designed to visually force the central image forward, and represent Ted’s playful back-and-forth movement between paintings he created privately and those done for his commercial work.
Each Day a New Beginning
In this work, Ted Geisel seems to have wrapped his Seussian wit and humor around an instantly relatable and timeless message—Bring on Your Dragons! No matter what challenges, issues or worries one may face, a fresh new start is always possible.
New starts and pushing past difficult times is a familiar theme to Dr. Seuss fans. Most notably, Ted touched on this in his final book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, where he warns us about the times we may find ourselves in a slump. “And when you’re in a Slump,” he writes, “you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.” He then inspires us to push through, to slay our dragons and move forward, “With banner flip-flapping, once more you’ll ride high! Ready for anything under the sky. Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!”
Nearly 50 years earlier, Dr. Seuss seems to convey a similar concept, this time with the help of an art history icon, Saint George and the Dragon. The legend of Saint George is that of a third-century soldier who saved a king’s daughter by slaying a dragon. Saint George has since been identified with the ideals of honor, bravery, and gallantry. Ted’s work appears to draw upon Saint George and shout in Seussian fashion, “Bring on your dragons!” thus raising our spirits, instilling courage, and inspiring bravery as we tackle whatever comes our way.
Renditions of Saint George and the Dragon were painted by masters such as Raphael, Tintoretto, Carpaccio, Rubens, and Dali. Donatello carved the encounter in marble and Shakespeare referenced the heroic deed in both Richard III and King Lear.
We find it fascinating that of the many artworks on this theme, Dr. Seuss’s account of Saint George and the Dragon is closest in configuration to the unattributed, circa 1514 tempera and gold leaf artwork found within Christ Church’s incomparable art gallery, located only a few blocks from where Ted attended Oxford’s Lincoln College in 1925. Compositionally, the icon and the cartoon are strikingly similar. The horse and rider fill the space, the modest landscape rises to the right in both, culminating with an Eastern architectural element.
Honorary Doctorate at Dartmouth College
In May 1955 Dartmouth’s President, John Sloan Dickey, invited Dr. Seuss back to the campus to celebrate the 30th reunion of the Class of 1925 and to receive an honorary doctorate in the company of Robert Frost. The citation for Ted’s doctorate read in part, "As author and artist you single-handedly have stood as St. George between a generation of exhausted parents and the demon-dragon of unexhausted children on a rainy day." Little did they know what an apt correlation they had made between Dr. Seuss and Saint George.
Donald E. Pease, Theodor SEUSS Geisel (Oxford University Press, 2010): 113.
Thomas D. Murphy Calendar Company
This remarkable work was originally conceived in a series of paintings completed for the Thomas D. Murphy Calendar Company. In business for more than a hundred years, the company became recognized as “number one” among the largest calendar companies of the 20th century. Although Murphy’s owners were not the first to approach Dr. Seuss, they were the only people successful in getting him to produce twenty-four artworks, which were used in promotional calendar blotters between 1935 and 1941.
Today, Dr. Seuss calendar cards are extremely rare and difficult to find, making this one of the most intriguing and forgotten Seuss projects of the 20th century. Bring on Your Dragons! represents the first release from this collection.