Irv Docktor

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Docktor in his studio in the 1960s

Irving Seidmon Docktor (July 10, 1918 - February 14, 2008) was an American artist and educator best known for his work as a book and magazine illustrator in the 1950s and 1960s. An early work on the history of paperbacks identified Docktor and Edward Gorey as executing some of the most interesting and appealing cover designs in the field.[1]

Early life[edit]

Irving Seidmont Docktor was born and raised in Philadelphia. He graduated from Central High School in Philadelphia, and won a scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) and the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania. A weight lifter in his youth, Docktor performed in walk-on roles with Mary Binney Montgomery's ballet troupe while he was in college as a supernumerary actor, a job he obtained one day while sketching the dancers during their rehearsal. When Docktor noticed the male lead had trouble lifting his partner, he stepped in and was offered a position on the spot.[2]



Irv Docktor, from the Heritage series, oil on canvas (ca. 1975)
Docktor, Men in Shawls, from the Heritage series (ca. 1975)

After graduating from art school, Docktor entered the army and was trained in photography. During World War II, he served as an aerial photographer in a map-making unit in the Technical Intelligence Team based in Australia and the Philippines. The sketches he made during this period served as visual referents for some of his later work, such as his illustrations for a book on the Battle of Bataan.[citation needed]

Upon his discharge, Docktor moved first to Flushing, Queens, New York, then to Fort Lee, New Jersey, and entered the commercial art world, producing illustrations for the covers and interiors of many novels, children’s books and record albums. Much of his early work was for Grosset & Dunlap. He illustrated a number of books in the "Lookouts" juvenile mystery series by Christine Noble Govan and Emmy West in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and he executed cover paintings for five science fiction novels by Robert A. Heinlein. He used his children and neighbors as models. His cover for Govan and West's Mystery of Rock City, for example, pictures his two sons and their playmates scrambling on the hillside near their house in Fort Lee.[citation needed]

He also did work in a brighter vein, including fashion illustrations, a cover for a book on Bergdorf Goodman, and an illustrated book of American Folklore. He contributed to magazines, and he painted posters for Broadway plays, including Tea and Sympathy, Long Day's Journey Into Night and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Drawings of dogs were featured in the advertising brochures and other products of the Docktor Pet Centers, a franchise founded by the artist's brother Milton. For this endeavor, Docktor expanded his range of technique to include photo collage, an approach he would occasionally use in other illustration work—in his covers for albums by The Serendipity Singers and the Dixie Double-Cats, for instance. His cover for an album by Art Tatum is an exercise in synesthesia, suggesting through strokes of color the tones of the pianist's music. Similarly, his cover for Stories of Suspense, an anthology published by Scholastic Books, evokes the mounting horror of Daphne du Maurier's story The Birds by including shadowy images of birds as a hidden visual motif.[citation needed]

Fine art[edit]

Detail from Grigory Gurevich's sculpture The Commuters (1984)
Detail from Grigory Gurevich's sculpture The Commuters (1984)

During this period, Docktor also pursued a separate career as a fine artist. A mural commission in 1960 led him to relocate temporarily from Fort Lee, New Jersey, to New York City, and eventually to shift his emphasis from commercial illustration. By the late 1960s he had refocused on fine art, exhibiting paintings in numerous galleries and art shows in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. In additions to landscapes and nudes, Docktor also returned repeatedly to a sequence of paintings he called the "Heritage series," featuring juxtaposed figures and faces from village life in the old world. “With technical perfection, the mystic characteristics and pathos give his art an exquisite, aesthetic quality,” remarked one reviewer in 1963.[3]

Docktor trained several generations of fine and commercial artists. He taught figure drawing, fashion illustration, calligraphy and other subjects on a part-time basis for almost 50 years at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts,[citation needed] and for 15 years served on the full-time faculty of the High School of Art and Design in New York City.[4] He also taught occasional classes at Learning Annex. During his final years, he led art classes as a volunteer at the Senior Center in Fort Lee, New Jersey.[citation needed]

He was a member of a number of artist's unions, including the Salmagundi Club, the Pastel Society of America, the Garden State Watercolor Society, the New Jersey Watercolor Society, the Philadelphia Sketch Club, the Philadelphia Watercolor Society, the New Jersey American Artists Professional League, the Northeast Watercolor Society, the Ridgewood Art Institute, the Ringwood Manor Art Association and the Society of Illustrators.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Docktor married Mildred Sylvia Himmelstein.[5] They lived in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in a home overlooking the Hudson River.[4] They frequently went to museums, the theatre, the Metropolitan Opera, the Philharmonic, the American Ballet Theatre, and the New York City Ballet. During performances, Docktor sketched what he was seeing in the Playbill.[4]

Docktor died February 14, 2008.[4]


  • "The Art of Irv Docktor". Cavalcade, December 1963.
  • "In Memoriam: Irv Docktor". Portfolio (Philadelphia Sketch Club), May 2008.


  1. ^ Frank L. Schick, The Paperbound Book in America: The History of Paperbacks and their European Background (New York: RR Bowker, 1958), p. 194.
  2. ^ In Memoriam: Irv Docktor". Portfolio (Philadelphia Sketch Club), May 2008.
  3. ^ "The Art of Irv Docktor," Cavalcade, December 1963.
  4. ^ a b c d Sloan, Michael (February 26, 2008). "Irv Docktor 1918-2008". Michael Sloan.
  5. ^ "Himmelstein, Morris M." The Baltimore Sun. July 5, 2006.

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