Pop CultureChildren & YouthJewish History

Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey

Nov 14, 2010–Mar 13, 2011

Curious George, the impish monkey protagonist of many adventures, may never have seen the light of day if it were not for the determination and courage of his creators, the illustrator H. A. Rey and his wife, author and artist Margret Rey. The exhibition features nearly 80 original drawings of the beloved monkey and other characters, a look at the Reys’ escape from Nazi Europe, and more.

about the exhibition

Curious George, the impish monkey protagonist of many adventures, may never have seen the light of day if it were not for the determination and courage of his creators, the illustrator H. A. Rey (1898–1977) and his wife, author and artist Margret Rey (1906–1996).

Born in Hamburg to Jewish families, they lived together in Paris from 1936 to 1940. Hours before the Nazis marched into Paris in June 1940, the Reys fled on bicycles, carrying drawings for their children’s stories including one about a mischievous monkey, then named Fifi. Not only were they able to save the characters, but the Reys themselves were saved by their illustrations when authorities found them in their belongings, which may explain why saving the day after a narrow escape became the premise of most Curious George stories.

After their fateful escape from Paris and a four-month journey across France, Spain, Portugal, and Brazil, the couple reached New York in the fall of 1940. In all, the Reys authored and illustrated over 30 books, most of them for children, seven starring Curious George.

The exhibition features nearly 80 original drawings of the beloved monkey and other characters, preparatory dummy books, vintage photographs, and documentation related to the Reys’ escape from Nazi Europe, as well as a specially designed reading room for visitors of all ages.

image gallery
ABOUT H.A. AND MARGRET REY

H. A. Rey (né Hans Augusto Reyersbach) had no formal art training, but in the early 1920s designed and lithographed circus posters in Hamburg. Margret Rey (née Margarete Waldstein) studied art and photography at the Bauhaus School and then worked in advertising firms and photographic studios in Germany and England in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The two first met in Hamburg before Hans departed for Rio de Janeiro in 1925, to work for a relative. They were married in 1935, after Margret joined him there, following Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany.

An extended honeymoon took them to Paris, where the Reys stayed and began working on children’s books. Filled with gentle humor and illustrated with H. A. Rey’s vivid watercolors, their stories were usually formulated by Hans and later developed by Margret into a full plot. 

Following the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939 and France’s declaration of war against Germany, the Reys sought refuge first in the southern region of the Gers and later in Normandy, fleeing Paris for the third and last time on June 12, 1940. Despite the difficulties, the Reys were prolific in France, publishing seven books from 1937 through 1939 (three in both French and English) and completing the manuscripts and drawings for at least four others later published in America. On October 14, 1940, the Reys finally reached New York. Within a month, four of the manuscripts they had brought with them were accepted for publication by the publisher Houghton Mifflin. 

SUPPORTERS

Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey was organized by The Jewish Museum, New York. The exhibition is supported by a bequest from the Estate of Lore Ross. The San Francisco presentation was generously supported by the Mimi and Peter Haas Fund, James Irvine Foundation, Roselyne Chroman Swig, PNC Foundation, Chara Schreyer and Gordon Freund, and Julie and David M. Levine. Media sponsors are KQED, KGO-TV, and Bay Area Parent.

Koret and Taube Foundations are the lead supporters of the 2010–11 exhibition season.

Image Credit

H. A. Rey, final illustration for “This is George. He lived in Africa” (detail), published in The Original Curious George (1998), France, 1939–40, watercolor, charcoal, and color pencil on paper.  H. A. & Margret Rey Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi.  Curious George, and related characters, created by Margret and H. A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. © 2010 by HMH.