New Yorker cover artist Ian Falconer has passed away.
Ian Woodward Falconer
August 25, 1959 – March 7, 2023
He was a stage designer noted for his work in opera when he hit the best-seller list in 2000 with the first in a series of books for children.
Ian Falconer, who had built a successful career designing opera sets with David Hockney and drawing covers for The New Yorker when he turned a character he had originally created as a Christmas gift for a niece into “Olivia,” a children’s book about a rambunctious piglet that became a publishing sensation, died on Tuesday in Norwalk, Conn. He was 63.
His lawyer and agent, Conrad Rippy, said the cause was kidney failure.
After incubating his talent as a theater designer with David Hockney, assisting the renowned artist with sets and costumes for Los Angeles Opera productions in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Falconer went on to create set and/or costume designs for top-tier companies around the world, including Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, New York City Ballet and The Royal Opera.
Later [in 1996], Falconer crafted a small book featuring a story and drawings of a pig to gift his three-year-old niece Olivia at Christmas. The present was a hit, and with warm encouragement from his family and friends, Falconer decided to develop his holiday gift idea into a full-fledged picture book. He initially showed his work to an agent who was receptive, but Falconer became discouraged when the agent and a few editors suggested they find an established author to write a text for his illustrations. “I’d made this character and this story, and I really didn’t want it to be ‘illustrated by Ian Falconer,’” he said in a 2000 interview with PW. He filed the project away for nearly three years, until Atheneum editor Anne Schwartz—a fan of his New Yorker work—contacted him asking if he might want to illustrate a children’s book or have anything to show her. “And I had Olivia,” he told PW.
By 1996, Falconer was again living in New York and pursuing illustration projects alongside his theater work. He landed the cover illustration for the July 8 issue of the New Yorker, the first of more than 30 covers he would create for the magazine.
Françoise Mouly, for The New Yorker, remembers Ian (with a gallery):
I met Ian in 1996, in the early days of my tenure as The New Yorker’s art editor. My mandate was to refresh the art for what had come to be perceived as a highly respected but somewhat fossilized magazine. I turned to Falconer, who grew up in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and was a longtime fan of the magazine, for help.