Donkey-donkey, Petunia, and Other Pals: Drawings by Roger Duvoisin, Now on View

Life Lessons from Animal Friends: Children’s Book Illustrations by Roger Duvoisin

at the Zimmerli this Summer


New Brunswick, NJ – Celebrate classic children’s literature with original drawings by Roger Duvoisin, the acclaimed illustrator of more than 140 books who lived and worked in New Jersey for nearly five decades. The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers is pleased to present Donkey-donkey, Petunia, and Other Pals: Drawings by Roger Duvoisin, on view July 11, 2015, through June 26, 2016. The exhibition spans Duvoisin’s entire career – from his first book, A Little Boy Was Drawing, to his last, The Happy Lioness – and includes images from the Caldecott Medal winner White Snow, Bright Snow. Nearly 40 works chronicle the adventures, antics, and epiphanies of his characters – both animal and human – whose timeless life lessons resonate from generation to generation.


“A child’s first aesthetic experience often occurs with picture books and Roger Duvoisin ranks among the most beloved illustrators in the field. He created such memorable characters as Petunia the silly goose, Donkey-donkey, and Snowy the polar bear, who – like many of Duvoisin’s characters – teach important lessons about believing in one’s self and accepting others as they are,” notes Marilyn Symmes, the museum’s Director of the Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings. “The Zimmerli is fortunate to have a collection that represents the artist’s entire career. And we are pleased to spotlight this exhibition in the museum’s Roger Duvoisin Gallery, a space dedicated to the museum’s extensive collection of original artwork for children’s books.”


Roger Duvoisin (1904-80) was born in Geneva, Switzerland, where he began his career devising murals, posters, and stage scenery for the Geneva Opera Company. Later, he worked in France for studios that specialized in ceramics and high fashion textiles. In 1925, Duvoisin and his new wife Louise Fatio immigrated to the United States when he was hired as a textile designer by a New York-based firm specializing in fashion silk goods. When the company went out of business during the Great Depression, an unemployed Duvoisin wrote and illustrated his first children’s book – A Little Boy Was Drawing – to amuse his young son. His originality and gift for storytelling captured the attention of Charles Scribner, who published the book in 1932.


A Little Boy Was Drawing chronicles the adventures found in a child’s fantasy world, where a little boy named Tom discovers that his drawings come to life. When his rendering of a mailman emerges from the paper, Tom eagerly follows him on a journey to the Land of Wonders. Tom is crowned King and, at first, he is thrilled. But he soon learns that the esteemed title is accompanied by equally important duties, which he realizes he is not ready to assume. While not a commercial success, the book fortuitously brought Duvoisin to the attention of the children’s book world.  


Duvoisin’s next book, Donkey-donkey, The Troubles of a Silly Little Donkey – initially published by Whitman Company in 1933 – achieved a popularity that endured over several decades. He also embarked on illustrating other authors’ books, from Mother Goose and Noah’s Ark to American history for young readers. In 1938, the Duvoisins settled on a farm in Gladstone, New Jersey. They enjoyed country life surrounded by animals that inspired some of his most memorable characters, while remaining near the publishing and cultural capital of New York City.


In the 1950s, Duvoisin began illustrating the first of more than a dozen children’s books authored by his wife Louise Fatio (1904-93). The Happy Lion (1954) was so successful that it launched a Happy Lion series of ten stories. On display are original drawings for their last collaboration, The Happy Lioness (1980). After the kingly lion – a popular zoo attraction – is injured and needs time to recuperate, his lioness improvises a colorful mane to entertain visitors until her mate is able to return. Both learn valuable lessons as their roles are reversed. Duvoisin died shortly after the publication of this delightful story about loyalty, partnership, and affection – a heartwarming conclusion to a career dedicated to children’s literature.


Over the course of his career, Duvoisin worked with about 60 authors. Among the most successful collaborations were those with Alvin Tresselt and Berniece Freschet. Paired with lyrical text by Tresselt, Duvoisin’s renderings for the Caldecott Medal winner White Snow, Bright Snow (1947) capture the anticipation throughout a community of a snowfall that transforms the landscape. In his nature books with Freschet, Duvoisin cleverly used collage to capture the colors and textures of a pond setting for a bullfrog stalked by a heron in The Old Bullfrog (1968) and a grassy jungle for a spider in A Web in the Grass (1972).


The exhibition features original drawings from Duvoisin’s other picture book classics, including: Petunia (1950); A for the Ark (1952); Nubber Bear (1966), authored by William Lipkind; and Snowy and Woody (1979). The drawings were selected from more than 2,000 Duvoisin works in the Zimmerli’s extensive collection of American prints and drawings. This exhibition is the first important showing of Duvoisin’s work since 1989, when the Zimmerli organized the artist’s first major retrospective, Roger Duvoisin, The Art of Children’s Books. It was accompanied by a catalogue (with contributions from Ellin Greene and Dorothy Hoogland Verkerk) and traveled to the Capital Children’s Museum in Washington, DC.


Donkey-donkey, Petunia, and Other Pals: Drawings by Roger Duvoisin is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. To schedule a class or group tour Tuesday through Sunday, please contact the Education Department ( at least two weeks in advance.


The exhibition was organized by Marilyn Symmes, Director of the Zimmerli’s Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings, with Leeza Cinar, a Rutgers University undergraduate student assistant.



The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.



Admission is free to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. The museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street (at George Street) on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.


The Zimmerli Art Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and the first Tuesday of each month (except August), 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays, as well as the month of August.


Z Café featuring the Food Architects is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a variety of breakfast, lunch, and snack items. The café is closed major holidays, as well as the months of July and August.


For more information, visit the museum’s website or call 848.932.7237.



The Zimmerli’s operations, exhibitions, and programs are funded in part by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and income from the Avenir Foundation Endowment and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment, among others. Additional support comes from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; the Estate of Victoria J. Mastrobuono; and donors, members, and friends of the museum.



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