This list identifies some of the best romance cover artists from the 20th century and are names that devoted fan should be familiar with.
Table of contents
- 21 of the Best Historical Romance Cover Illustrators
- 1. Robert McGinnis
- 2. H. Tom Hall
- 3. Harry Bennett
- 4. Elaine Duillo
- 5. Pino Daeni
- 6. Elaine Gignilliat
- 7. Max Ginsburg
- 8. Morgan Kane
- 9. Robert A. Maguire
- 10. Roger Kastel
- 11. Walter & Marie Popp
- 12. Victor Gadino
- 13. Sharon Spiak
- 14. John Ennis
- 15. Franco Accornero
- 16. Renato Aime
- 17. Melissa Duillo-Gallo
- 18. Gregg Gulbronson
- 19. Ray Kursar
- 20. James Griffin
- 21. Charles Geer
- Final Thoughts on Cover Artists
- Your Opinion
21 of the Best Historical Romance Cover Illustrators
I adore romances from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, partly due to the beautiful cover art. Over the years, I’ve amassed thousands of dazzling images. It’s a fun hobby to try to discover the artists who created them.
This compilation began as an attempt to list the ten artists every lover of old-school romances and clinch covers should know. Ten became fifteen, then twenty. Finally, I settled on 21 illustrators to identify.
This catalog of names consists of some of the best romance cover artists of all time.
That doesn’t mean these are the only artists to know, as this list is limited to historical romances written in the last third of the 20th century.
These 21 entries provide a starting point for the novice learner.
1. Robert McGinnis
Robert McGinnis illustrated Gothic books before he turned to mainstream romance.
His first bodice ripper was Avon‘s reissue of Kathleen E. Woodiwiss‘ The Flame and the Flower. McGinnis then designed the cover for her sophomore outing, The Wolf and the Dove. His suggestive clinches for Johanna Lindsey, Patricia Hagan, and Laura Parker gained him acclaim and notoriety.
McGinnis worked almost exclusively with tempera paints.
His mature, angular style was an instant draw for romance. McGinnis created the first naked man covers, which delighted genre fans.
But it was the McGinnis woman who was a being of legend. McGinnis depicted the feminine form in a most alluring fashion.
“The McGinnis Woman possesses a whirling narrative force all her own, a perfumed cyclone of sexuality, savvy, mystery, and danger. She also sells books—lots and lots of books.”(Source: Vanity Fair)
2. H. Tom Hall
The strokes are broad yet precise. Hall’s scenes contain a dark, smoky essence. The heroines’ long locks flow wildly, while the heroes’ faces are shadowed and inscrutable.
Hall had a sensitive, respectful touch when portraying people of different races and ethnicities. Thus his illustrations were prominent on paperbacks set all over the world.
3. Harry Bennett
Harry Bennett‘s dazzling style of swirls and whorls of flowing hair may be especially familiar to fans of Pocket Books‘ early historical romances. He created memorable covers for Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Jude Deveraux.
While his work inspired many other artists, Harry Bennett’s covers have been confused with those of H. Tom Hall. While their depictions might appear similar, a keen eye needs only to look at the faces of the male models to spot the difference.
Of his artwork, Bennett’s son Tom, also a painter, said:
“My father had a great facility with mediums, and he experimented and adapted to new trends with different techniques. His favorite medium above all, in both his painting and illustration, was oil.
He also worked extensively in egg tempera, inks, and various combinations of tempera and oil. In the 1950s and early ’60s he worked a great deal in water-based media like gouache.
Later, he would occasionally work in acrylic. But late in his career, it was almost exclusively oil with a black oil medium.”TOM BENNETT, KILLER COVERS OF THE WEEK
4. Elaine Duillo
Elaine Duillo was the undisputed “Queen of Romance Covers.” She started in pulp fiction before moving on to Gothics and romance.
Duillo was not ashamed to be sexy and outrageous with her art. She embraced camp to the hilt. Her reverence for beauty and perfection made her creative style a wonder to behold.
Duillo’s technique was marked by hyper-realism, unparalleled attention to detail, and a vast palette of colors.
Elaine would paint light hues onto a black canvas. This achieved stunning results for elements such as platinum-blonde or red-gold flowing waves of hair or sumptuous, satin gowns that looked like one could touch them.
Duillo worked in acrylics and oils. She placed her signature, “Elaine,” as close to the bodies as possible.
Her daughter, Melissa Duillo-Gallo, also produced romance covers like Elaine’s.
5. Pino Daeni
Pino Daeni’s brushstrokes, the curves of his feminine subjects, and their facial expressions make his covers uniquely recognizable.
Daeni was always willing to experiment with different methods and poses. He was one of the early artists to employ the wraparound cover design, the pose, and the pose and clinch style.
Pino worked in oils and preferred to stand while painting.
Pino’s innovative technique precedes him. He mixed impressionism and realism to create his own intoxicating style.
“I used to paint in the academic way. Then I changed. I could no longer stay with just one school. Everything was interesting to me. I was curious about various schools of thought.”Pino, (2006)
6. Elaine Gignilliat
Elaine Gignilliat designed covers for hundreds of romances. Her artwork demonstrated exquisite attention to detail, especially with the textures of fabrics and hair. Her use of bright colors against dark backdrops made for remarkable images.
Like most other cover artists of her day, Gignilliat worked in oils.
Also, like many other of her contemporaries, Gignilliat designed covers for epic historical blockbusters and shorter category romances.
After making the initial sketches for a cover, she would start her paintings by drawing everything in oil with a small brush.
Next, she established the color values, where the darkest, middle tones, and lightest areas would be. Then she would add the general colors in a light oil wash.
Afterward, the real painting began as Gignilliat developed the faces and hands, giving them more color and form. This eventually resulted in a beautiful picture made into a book cover.
7. Max Ginsburg
Ginsburg’s book covers are more romantic than sensual. The edges of his subjects blur into the background,
While Ginsburg could display the human body alluringly, his covers were rarely gratuitous.
He has a compassionate eye that highlights the humanity of his subjects. Like H. Tom Hall, Ginsburg has a talent for empathetically painting people of diverse heritages.
Ginsburg’s style influenced many artists of Avon covers in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
8. Morgan Kane
No one could capture the ornate, intricate patterns of fabrics as Morgan Kane could.
Whether presenting a lacy gown, a multi-textured cape, or a mosaic of hues on a blanket, Kane can make one feel the material just as well as one sees it.
In contrast, he depicted human forms in a much softer manner. The difference between the grounded beauty of his subjects against ornate backgrounds, textiles, or flowers makes for a visual treat.
9. Robert A. Maguire
Robert A. Maguire was another of the many illustrators who created lurid pulp covers. While his pulp art was highly sexualized, his romance covers are more sedate.
An emotional connection is the focus, not sex. The faces of Maguire’s females are delicate, with thickly-lashed eyes and rosebud lips.
Maguire played light and dark tones against each other in an enchanting manner. His method is not surreal nor hyperreal. Instead, it is idealized unrealism, approaching the imagined perfection of a cartoon.
Like Elaine Duillo, Maguire often placed his signature–“R. A. Maguire”–as close to the bodies as possible, in a shade lighter than the background.
10. Roger Kastel
Famous for his movie posters, Roger Kastel‘s romance style shares similarities with that of Maguire & most significantly, Max Ginsburg.
Kastel favored a romantic, blurred technique instead of a precise, angular reality.
Kastel’s brushstrokes fused colors, creating a hazy aura around the couples.
11. Walter & Marie Popp
Walter and Marie Popp designed Regency, Gothic, and bodice ripper covers. Each genre had its method to it.
The Gothics were shrouded in darkness and mist.
Regencies were marked with a sweet, crisp quality.
For the historical romance covers, the Popps embraced sexy with their curvaceous heroines and muscular heroes.
The female faces look similar, as Walter often used his wife Marie, a model, as his muse. Their expressions are a variation of hers, from their full lips to their round eyes.
12. Victor Gadino
The great Victor Gadino‘s technique is masterful. His attention to fine detail is exquisite.
Note the musculature of the hero’s abdominal and pectorals, the lace on the hem of the heroine’s skirts, the silk pattern of pillows, and the heavy-lidded eyes in the hero’s lusty expression.
His use of jewel-tone colors results in covers that sparkle like precious gems.
More than any other artist since Elaine Duillo, Gadino’s art is typified by a carnal sensuality. His approach is hyperrealistic, with figures as close to perfection as the human eye can conceive.
13. Sharon Spiak
She painted in oils, creating an atmosphere of enchantment always backed by passion. Spiak’s paintings for romance novels capture sensuality, beauty, and fantasy by captivating the viewer in the intimacy of the moment.
Her approach differs from cover to cover. There is always a delicacy to the females’ features and a lovely interplay of pastels against darker tones.
14. John Ennis
John Ennis utilizes a “Disney Princess” method of painting, as his human images are beautiful but unrealistic. His covers have a fanciful, almost cartoon-like, fairy-tale quality. His work is based more on fantasy than romanticism.
Ennis played around with shades of light and contrasting hues, resulting in striking covers that made him a natural fit for Zebra.
If one notes the texture of the heroines’ hair, one can see individual strands and curls against blocks of solid color.
Like Franco Accornero, John Ennis was an early innovator of digital artwork.
15. Franco Accornero
Franco Accornero, or “Franco,” pioneered computerized art design. Due to his fascination with the capabilities of technology, Franco always pushed boundaries.
Before he transitioned to digital artwork in the 1990s, Franco worked primarily in oils.
As an independent freelance artist, he was responsible for all cover design elements, from setting up the scene to models, costumes, and props. He arranged various poses with different lighting arrangements.
His fine director’s eye created a dramatic and flattering balance of light and shadow.
Franco would use a wind machine in the photo sessions to get that flowing hair look.
16. Renato Aime
Renato Aime worked primarily in oils in addition to other mediums. He frequently designed covers for Dorchester and Kensington, two publishing houses that hired artists with an eye for the outlandish.
Aime captured the curvaceous female forms in contrast against the more rigid muscles of the males in a most pleasing way.
While Aime’s technique is recognizable as his own, it does bear some resemblance to his fellow Italian illustrators. One can see similarities to the covers of Pino Daeni and Franceso Accornero. Note the blending of colors and the identifiable strokes.
17. Melissa Duillo-Gallo
Elaine’s work is titillating and highly elaborate. Melissa’s art tends to the sweeter side with more playful emotions. Duillo-Gallo applied flamboyantly bright colors, exemplifying the feel of the 1980s and 1980s.
After she married, Melissa signed her covers as Gallo, not Duillo. Unlike her mother, she usually placed her signature away from the bodies.
Melissa also used less eyeshadow than her mother did, which is saying something!
18. Gregg Gulbronson
Gregg Gulbronson utilized a distinctive approach, making his covers both breathtaking and easy to recognize. Romance, sexuality, fantasy, and reality all meld together in Gulbronson’s art.
Gulbronson used spraying/airbrushing techniques, which made for a striking and individualized look.
Enveloped in a romantic haze, the couples in clinches are surrounded by a dreamy ambiance. The figures seem to glow as the light plays against their hair, skin, and clothes.
19. Ray Kursar
Ray Kursar was yet another artist with a noticeable style. His paintings look more like drawings. Kursar worked with multiple mediums to create his illustrations, such as pastels and watercolors.
He employed various elements to make his covers stand out: emphasis on bright colors, flowers, animals, and fabrics.
Hair constantly flows in the wind, while the locks of waves and curls are well-defined.
20. James Griffin
James Griffin‘s covers from the 1980s and 1990s are quite distinct from his 21st-century ones, even though both periods are stunning.
The late-era clinches are made digitally and approach hyperrealism.
Griffin’s illustrations of the “classic” era are more dramatic, with windswept hair and passionate embraces. The couples are shown leaning back or lying down, rarely standing straight up.
His graceful aesthetic resulted in book covers that emotionally resonated with the romance reader.
21. Charles Geer
Geer’s style is so distinct. There is much going on in his images, whether sketches or paintings.
His attention to the tiniest of subjects amazes the eye. He used uniform brush strokes to create spectacular backgrounds, intricate curls in the hair, or elaborate textures in clothing. The bright pigments twinkle like stars against their darker settings.
Geer’s scenes appear dream-like but are far more memorable.
Final Thoughts on Cover Artists
Sweet Savage Flame believes it’s essential to keep the memory of these skilled cover illustrators and their works alive.
Hopefully, by familiarizing yourself with these artists’ techniques, you’ll quickly identify their covers on sight. No more having to confirm with a signature!
Do you think this a fair compilation of some best romance cover artists? Who are your favorite old-school illustrators?
Is there an artist you think we should have placed on this list but missing? What are your thoughts on painted versus digital cover art?
Please drop us a comment, and let’s talk romance!