The IMA presents The Fantasy World of Maurice Sendak, an exhibition of works by the
award-winning author and illustrator of children’s books. Over his nearly 50-year career,
Sendak has illustrated more than 80 children’s books including ten he also authored. He is
best-known for his book Where the Wild Things Are (1963), which is one of the top ten
best-selling children’s books of all time.
The Fantasy World of Maurice Sendak—the first show devoted exclusively to Sendak’s
work to be presented by a major American art museum—features works that demonstrate the
breadth of Sendak’s contribution to children’s literature, including original sketches,
drawings and watercolors. The exhibition also touches on the artist’s contributions to opera
and theater through his set designs for several productions.
Maurice Sendak was born in 1928 and grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Polish
immigrants. As a child he endured numerous confining illnesses including scarlet fever and
double pneumonia. Perhaps because of his frail health, Sendak relied on his imagination for
solace and entertainment, and he learned to draw.
Sendak began his career as an illustrator in 1951, achieving major recognition only one year
later for his illustration of Ruth Kraus’ A Hole Is To Dig. Over the next decade, he
illustrated 50 books including Else Holmelund Minarik’s five Little Bear books and his own
collection of miniature books known as The Nutshell Library (including Alligators All
Around, Chicken Soup With Rice, One Was Johnny and Pierre,) which was a popular and
One year after publication of The Nutshell Library, Where The Wild Things Are appeared,
marking a new direction in Sendak’s work. Where the Wild Things Are is the tale of a
young boy named Max who is sent to his room by his mother because he commits a string of
mischievous pranks. Alone in his room, he deals with his anger by taking a fantasy journey to
a land where he meets scary-looking but friendly beasts known as the Wild Things.
Where the Wild Things Are was truly a picture book in which the illustrations tell the tale
complemented by sparse text. It also presented a new subject for children’s books—a child’s
strong emotions as seen from the child’s point of view. It established Sendak as a force in
children’s literature, earning him the prestigious Caldecott Medal. It would be the first of
many major honors and awards.
Sendak considers Where The Wild Things Are to be the first in a trilogy of books, which
also includes In The Night Kitchen (1970) and Outside Over There (1981). Sendak’s
trilogy is not a traditional one. The stories stand alone, the characters are unrelated, and the
style of illustration differs markedly from one book to the next. Instead, Sendak feels the
books are a trilogy because they deal with the same theme: the emotional and psychological
life of children seen through a child’s eyes.
The Fantasy World of Maurice Sendak features more than 40 original works by Sendak,
including preliminary sketches and finished drawings and watercolors. Together they
demonstrate Sendak’s ability to work in a variety of styles, ranging from the richly detailed
pen-and-ink drawings for The Juniper Tree, to the flat, comic-book style of In the Night
Kitchen, to the soft and lyrical watercolors of Outside Over There. The exhibition also
features illustrations from Hector Protector and several works from and related to Where
the Wild Things Are, including Sendak’s cover illustration for the 1976 Christmas edition of
Rolling Stone magazine.
Sendak’s works for theatre and opera include set designs for the opera The Love for Three
Oranges, which premiered in 1982 at the Glyndebourne Opera House in Sussex, England.
Costume and set designs from Hansel and Gretel also will be displayed, including his set
design for the Gingerbread House.
Curated by IMA assistant curator Harriet G. Warkel, The Fantasy World of Maurice
Sendak features works loaned from the Rosenbach Library in Philadelphia, a repository for
many of Maurice Sendak’s manuscripts and illustrations. Additional works have been loaned
by private lenders. The exhibition also includes a display of books on loan from Indiana
University’s Lilly Library, featuring rare books illustrated by 19th-century English illustrators
whose works have influenced Sendak.