Learning to Ride a Bike by George Hughes

  • The great illustrator George Hughes is remembered for his nostalgic images of American life
  • This composition captures a boy and his father on a suburban street as he tries to ride a bike
  • It was created for the July 12, 1954 cover of the Saturday Evening Post
  • Hughes remains a beloved figure of the American Illustration movement
  • Get complete item description here
Item No. 31-6200

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George Hughes
1907-1990 | American

Learning to Ride a Bike

Oil on board

The great illustrator George Hughes found his place in the hearts and homes of families nationwide with his humorous and nostalgic renderings of American life. American illustrators like Hughes had the challenge of creating an image that expressed an entire story without any written description. They were a narrative that unfolded on a single canvas and clearly expressed the everyday human experience that almost all could relate to. This oil on masonite, entitled Learning to Ride a Bike, was created for the July 12, 1954 cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

Hughes’s composition captures both the simple joys of childhood and of parenting. On a quiet suburban street, a father runs alongside his young son’s accelerating bike, bearing a focused and startled expression as he guides the handlebars. In stark contrast to the father’s trepidation, his son could not be more delighted; he grins from ear to ear with widened eyes, and his feet are no longer resting on the pedals. In the background, a woman in a long red dress — presumably the wife and mother to Hughes’s two subjects — puts her hands over her mouth in surprise and worry as a neighbor and his dog look on. Learning to Ride a Bike speaks to a near-universal experience, exuding the quintessential nostalgia of "America's Golden Age of Illustration."

Hughes studied art and mechanical drawing at New York's Art Students League and the National Academy of Design. He worked for a number of years after his graduation as a freelance fashion illustrator, echoes of which can be seen in his fashionably dressed middle-class families in his later Post illustrations. Hughes's first major composition was painted in the early fall of 1947 and was featured on the cover of the Post in the spring of 1948, beginning a 15-year-long career with the publication. Hughes's works were also featured in other publications, including Vanity Fair, Woman’s Day, American Magazine and Reader's Digest. The Post wrote of the great illustrator, “Hughes, more than any other Post artist except Rockwell, survived the rise of photography,” pointing to his 115 covers with the magazine and his institutional success as a fine artist. His artworks were displayed at the Detroit Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and the Art Institute of Chicago during his lifetime, and remain desirable among discerning collectors of American art. 

Painted 1954

Board: 20" high x 19 1/4" wide
Frame: 27 3/8" high x 26 3/4" wide x 3/4" deep

Curtis Publishing Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1978)
By descent to Private Collection
M.S. Rau, New Orleans
Learning to Ride a Bike by George Hughes
Maker: Hughes, George
Period: 1919-Present
Origin: America
Type: Paintings
Depth: 0.75 Inches
Width: 26.75 Inches
Height: 27.38 Inches
Style: Illustration
Canvas Width: 19.250 Inches
Canvas Height: 20 Inches
Learning to Ride a Bike by George Hughes
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