The cover for this year’s Anniversary Issue, by the artist Kadir Nelson, is something of a sequel. In 2015, for the magazine’s ninetieth anniversary, Nelson presented a riff on Eustace Tilley, the dandy who graced the cover of The New Yorker’s first issue. Now he’s reimagined Tilley again, while still preserving the mascot’s spirit and bearing. We recently asked Nelson what inspired the image, and how he found the perfect model for the project.
This is your second take on Tilley. Why revisit him?
I had such fun painting the ninetieth-anniversary Eustace. It’s one of my favorite paintings—I got to be sophisticated, humorous, and provocative all at once. So I wanted to give it another go.
Nelson’s original Eustace Tilley cover; a preliminary sketch for his most recent cover.
Did anything specific make you decide to portray our mascot as a woman?
Not wanting to repeat myself, for one. And, given the amplified voices of women in the current creative and political environment, it just made sense.
You posed your partner, Jungmiwha Bullock, as the model for this painting. Do your models often influence your images?
Not usually. But here, I wanted to portray a beautiful, elegant woman who would command your attention at the opera. So I asked her to pose. In fact, part of her name literally means beautiful flower—so who better to model for this painting? The large flower print on the dress accentuates that meaning.
This image references opera. Do you listen to music while you paint? What kind of music?
I listen to all types of music while I paint. But I’m currently researching and writing a book about American music, so the soundtrack is full of blues, country, work songs, spirituals, and classic rock and roll, among others.
For more takes on Eustace Tilley, see the covers below.
“February 21, 1925,” by Rea Irvin
“Eustacia Tilley,” by R.O. Blechman”
“Début on the Beach,” by Ana Juan