Hilary Knight

Illustrator Hilary Knight is being honored by the New York Public Library tonight. He speaks to Rachel Syme about Kay Thompson, the lost Eloise book, and her new movie. VIEW OUR GALLERY

Robert Lorenzson

Robert Lorenzson

Eloise, At the Plaza

Hilary Knight made a painting of Eloise (which he says is "not as polished as the drawings") to hang in the Plaza Hotel lobby in 1964--at left is a watercolor sketch Knight did before committing the image to oil. Knight originally painted Eloise in 1957, but the canvas disappeared from the hotel lobby in 1960 and never returned, despite author Kay Thompson having offered a hefty reward for it.

Robert Lorenzson

Eloise, C'est Moi

An unused sketch for Eloise in Paris, circa 1957. The dress design is by Christian Dior, dictated to his then assistant, Yves St. Laurent.

Robert Lorenzson

The Ultimate Eloise

Knight had the chance to re-draw Eloise in 2000, when Kay Thompson's estate decided to release the new "Ultimate Edition" of the series. Knight says, "I was mostly glad to have the chance to go back and correct all the little mistakes I made." At left is an original sketch for the updated book.

Robert Lorenzson

The First Sketches

Knight began working with Thompson in fall 1954, and completed these unpublished trail sketches for the character based on a few sentences on scraps of paper that Thompson handed him (I can write, I can chew gum, I have a turtle.) Thompson would later lament to Knight that "the only book that's any good is the first book."

Robert Lorenzson

A Girl and Her Turtle

Original sketch for Eloise and her turtle, Skipperdee, circa 1954. Knight was still working out Eloise's final image, but her outfit and wild hair are already in place.

Robert Lorenzson

Eloise and Skiperdee, 1954

Another original sketch for Eloise, whom Knight's good friend and sometimes collaborator Maurice Sendak would later call "a brazen, loose-limbed little monster." Knight says that he tried to draw Eloise as "a simply terrible little girl."

Robert Lorenzson

The Dainty June Project

Knight's next book will be a collaboration with June Havoc--a.k.a. "Dainty June" or Gypsy Rose Lee's little sister. Havoc, now 97, married to actor-director William Spier in 1949, two years after Spier divorced Eloise creator Kay Thompson. Of Havoc, Knight says she is "a totally different person than Kay, but no less brilliant."

Robert Lorenzson

Childhood Memories

Knight says that he would love to publish a compendium of his life's work, and in it, he would include images of what it was like growing up with artist-illustrator parents. This original watercolor sketch from 1992 shows Knight's childhood bedroom, complete with colorful wall paintings by his mother. Knight himself paints murals--he is currently "working on a mural in a private residence" inside--where else--the Plaza.

Robert Lorenzson

Martha Stewart's Drawing

Knight sketched Martha Stewart's chow chow, Paw Paw, "famous for his cat paw feet," before the dog's death in 2008.

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Best in Show

Original sketches for a dog show grooming, circa 1999. The sketch shows Knight's knack for caricatures of high society figures and their pampered pets.

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The Artist At Work

Knight completed this casual watercolor sketch in 2000. He often works directly from text and completes a new sketch in "no time at all."

Robert Lorenzson

Knight's Tales

In addition to the Eloise books, Knight has illustrated more than 50 books for children, including Betty Macdonald's Mrs. Piggle Wiggle (a job he shared with Maurice Sendak), and written over a dozen others himself. He says that he "is fortunate to love children. Kay [Eloise's creator] hated being around them."

Robert Lorenzson

Eloisiana

Though Knight and Thompson only collaborated on four published books (and one published after Thompson's death), the Eloise estate has reissued and repackaged the books many times in the last ten years. Knight says, "Eloise will never really go away. I hope we have another book in my lifetime, and that I'm here to draw it."

Herb Scher

Hilary Knight, 2009

The artist in his studio in October 2009. On November 2, he will receive an achievement honor at the New York Public Library in a gala celebration, hosted by actor John Lithgow. He will be honored alongside Brokeback Mountain author Annie Proulx, and much to Knight's delight, he "won't have to give a speech. Though I am thrilled about it."