Edward Sorel

On this date in 1929, illustrator, artist and satirist Edward Sorel was born in Bronx, N.Y., to Morris and Rebecca (Kleinberg) Schwartz. He packs a lot of punch with few, and very often, no words. Look at Sorel’s “Pass the Lord and Praise the Ammunition” from 1967, for example. The color halftone poster, on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery, depicts New York Cardinal Francis Spellman in clerical garb and Army boots on the advance, wielding a rifle with fixed bayonet.

The conservative Catholic cardinal had been military vicar general of the U.S. armed forces since 1939 and was an outspoken hawk on the Vietnam War. By 1967 he was out of step with many Americans. Just as Sorel was finishing the poster, Spellman died, so he waited till 1972 to use the image for the cover art of his book Making the World Safe for Hypocrisy.

Sorel, who is a member of FFRF’s Honorary Board as of this writing in 2019, is a regular contributor to The Atlantic and The New Yorker and many other publications. Besides his 41 covers for the latter, his art has appeared on the covers of The Atlantic, Harpers, Fortune, Forbes, The Nation, Esquire, American Heritage and The New York Times Magazine. He has illustrated many children’s books, three of which he also wrote. Unauthorized Portraits (Knopf 1997) is the most recent of several collections of his work.

In 1998 the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., devoted several rooms to an exhibition of his caricatures. He is a recipient of the Augustus St. Gaudens Medal for Professional Achievement from The Cooper Union, the Hamilton King Award from The Society of Illustrators, the Page One Award from the Newspaper Guild, the Best in Illustration Award from the National Cartoonists Society, the George Polk Award for Satiric Drawing and the “Karikaturpreis der deutschen Anwaltschaft” from the Wilhelm Busch Museum in Hanover, Germany. In 2001 the Art Directors Club of New York elected him to its Hall of Fame.

Sorel graduated from the Cooper Union in 1951 and co-founded Push Pin Studios with Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast in 1953 before embarking on a very successful freelance career. In a 1997 interview in The Atlantic, he was asked what issues he felt especially strong about and was inspired to address. He answered: “Well, I’m one of those who regard organized religion as a dangerous force. I try whenever possible to do anti-clerical cartoons. The only place that will print them is The Nation, which has a very small circulation and pays almost nothing.”

Sorel, sitting for a joint interview with fellow artists Jules Feiffer and David Levine in 2003, was asked about earlier saying he hated the Bush administration and Saddam Hussein. “All I said was that we have our religious fanatics fighting their religious fanatics, which leaves me without a side to root for,” he replied.

The introduction to his National Portrait Gallery “Unauthorized Portraits” exhibit says Sorel’s “potent spoofs of public figures … skewered pomposity wherever it appeared or simply mused on the exquisite oddness of the human comedy.” The exhibit has three sections: history, entertainment and the arts, and politics. “From Moses leading his kvetching people (‘Some miracle! If I don’t get pneumonia, that’ll be a miracle’) through the parted Red Sea waters, to George Gershwin teaching Fred Astaire a dance step, to Madonna seen as a ‘horseperson of the apocalypse.’ ”

Edward Sorel’s “The Last Flossing” (1992)

Freedom From Religion Foundation