A Closer Look: Walter and Marie Popp

walter and marie popp

A Couple of Artists Who Created Romance

A Husband and Wife Duo

Did you know about the romance illustrator who hid his wife’s name in his signature? It was artist Walter Popp. This was because, for many years, he and his wife Marie painted the covers together!

a daring wager
A Daring Wager, Valerie King, Zebra, 1989

There are differences between a pure Walter Popp cover and the ones he and Marie worked on. Walter’s solo work is more sensual in nature, while the duo emphasized the beauty and romance of the couple.

Walter would sign his work with his full name or a “W. Popp.” Walter and Marie united the M and W of their first names for their combined signature to make a unique initial.

walter popp sig
Walter Popp’s signature
wm popp
Walter and Marie’s combined signature

Walter and Marie Popp Biographies

Walter and Marie Popp both studied at the Art Students League in New York where many well-known and influential artists studied and taught. They met in 1946 after Walter returned from serving in WWII and was attending school on the G.I. Bill.  

Marie started as a fashion illustrator and model. Walter’s early career was in magazine illustration. 

They later joined together to produce hundreds of paintings for illustration, most notably book covers for Regency period romances.  Their work was among the most sought after.

Walter and Marie painted covers for every major book publisher in New York, including WarnerZebra, Signet, Fawcett, Harlequin, Dell, and others. Both were longtime members of the prestigious Society of Illustrators in New York.

amazing stories
Amazing Stories, Walter Popp illustration

Early Illustration Careers

Although 30-plus years of magazine and book illustration produced numerous works for detective stories, westerns, and gothic mysteries among others,  it was the theme of romance that they found the most compelling and for which they began their truly collaborative efforts.

Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, Walter worked alone on illustrations. He produced art for Stag, For Men Only, True Detective, Amazing Stories, Man’s Illustrated, Fantastic Adventures, Startling Stories, Male, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Master Detective, and Man’s World.

The Popps’ “collaboration” was limited to raising a large family of nine children, with Marie doing some figurative paintings between a hectic home life.

She also served as a model for many of her husband’s early illustrations for adventure magazines which often depicted beautiful women in peril. 

young marie popp
Marie Popp as painted by Walter Popp

Book Illustration Careers

By the 1970’s Walter saw his hard work beginning to pay off.  His freelance work was in such demand by publishers who watched books with his covers quickly moving off the shelves that he had a choice to make: Turn down assignments or ask Marie to pitch in.

With such a  large family to support, the decision was easy. Marie said, “Don’t turn down any work!” and began to work with Walter on book covers. 

They worked together in a small studio in the corner of their home.  Marie joined in on every phase, from rough sketching to selecting models and directing photo sessions to the finished paintings.

Her background in fashion served them well when researching Regency period clothing (even doing her own alterations on gowns and tailcoats). Walter’s hard-earned reputation as a top artist in his field made theirs a uniquely valuable partnership.

Early on, Walter continued to sign his name on all artwork so as not to confuse the publishing world, but eventually, he changed his signature to reflect his wife’s initials.  He created a monogram combining the W and M of their names which they used thereafter on collaborations.

winterscape
Winterscape, Anastasia Cleaver, Ace, 1976

A Twilight Career in Fine Art

After 30 years of painting covers,  the couple turned their attention to fine art. The pair created a series of works for collectors, romantic images set to a backdrop of elegance and grace.

Although their paintings feature subjects from another period, the artists included a timeless aspect in their art: love.

The men and women in Walter and Marie’s romantic scenes are people we relate to. The effect is fresh,  like romance itself, always filled with the possibility of something new.

Walter and Marie combined to create a unique and recognizable look for their art. Although their figures are lovely, their artistry shows in the characters’ faces.

“We tell stories with faces. A woman may be walking in a garden with a man. The man and the woman are just looking at each other, looking in each other’s faces, relating intimately with one another. They are very romantic pieces. We just believe in Romance.”

MARIE POPP

Walter and Marie had 55 years together as husband and wife and creative partners. It culminated with Walter’s death in 2002.  Marie passed away in 2006. 

rapture's heaven
Rapture’s Heaven, Cyndy Carpenter, Zebra, 1983

Covers

Here are some lovely Popp covers to admire. Can you tell which are just Walter’s covers and which are created by both Walter and Marie?

Your Opinion

What do you think of the Popps’ artwork? Did you know they worked as a couple together on their covers?

As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

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