Elaine Gignilliat

Elaine Gigniliat
Elaine Gignilliat

The Other Elaine

Elaine Gignilliat, the Artist

Elaine Gignilliat (pronounced “Jen-i-lat”) was one of the few women cover artists in the heyday of the bodice ripper. Her crisp style may be familiar to fans of thick, doorstopper epics by Day Taylor or Aleen Malcolm.

Gignilliat started out in fashion illustrations before turning her hand to book cover art in 1974. She soon became a respected artist in her field for her work in historical romances.

The legendary Bantam art director Len Leone, called her a “big hitter with exquisite taste.”

moss rose day taylor gignilliat

The Beautiful Covers

She worked for many established publishing houses such as Bantam, Dell, Signet/Onyx, and Zebra. Like Harry Bennett, Gignilliat painted many covers for Pocket Books‘ Tapestry imprint, as well as covers for Victoria Holt/ Jean Plaidy. Also like Bennett, Gignilliat would be one of the first artists to take advantage of the “wraparound cover” which would stretch the image from the front cover to the spine and onto the back.


She designed covers for hundreds of books. Her artwork was marked by exquisite attention to detail, especially with the textures of fabrics and hair, and her use of bright and dark colors. Like artists such as Pino, Elaine Duillo, Robert Maguire, Ron LesserGeorge H. Jones, and many other of her contemporaries, she designed covers not only for historical blockbusters but for smaller, category romances as well.

a wooman of daring gignilliat

Elaine Gignilliat Other Art & Legacy

Gignilliat was also a commercial artist for various big-named clients such as Paramount Pictures, Reader’s Digest, and TV Guide. Gignilliat would also create stunning painted plates for the Danbury Mint.

Other clients included Delta Airlines, Dewars, Readers’ Digest Music, Paramount Pictures, T.V. Guide, The Bradford Exchange, The Danbury Mint, and The Washington Post Weekly Magazine.

She even produced tastefully sexy poster art for adult films.

Unfortunately, like so many greats of the 20th century, Gignilliat is no longer with us. She passed away at age 87 in 2015.

Her artwork and much of the history behind the cover art can be found on her website.

Process of Painting a Cover (from Gignilliat’s site)


Before painting, I first draw everything with a small brush (only Winsor Newton Series 7). Expensive, but worth the price, using oil, in the color of burnt umber, thinly.

Painting – Early Stage

Here I’ve added no other colors yet, but have established the values, where the darkest, middle tones, and lightest areas will be, still using only burnt umber in wash tones.

Painting – Middle Stage

I’m beginning to add the general colors, lightly in oil wash. I’ve decided the dress will be blue-green, not red, as the model wore at the shooting as a contrast to the warm colors in the rest of the painting. The colors and depth are developing more, but it still looks washed out. It takes Time! I now begin to use oil paint more heavily and to develop the faces and hands, giving them more color and form.

Painting – Finished

Here it is fully developed with a suggestion of a cave they’re in. There is a mystery in this book, a suggestion that the hero might actually be dangerous, a killer! That’s why I chose to have his hand on her throat, so you don’t know whether he’s going to kiss her or kill her! The rest of the background is left white as in the entire series of nineteen I did for Victoria Holt books

Delivering Painting to Art Director

This the reception area of the art department at CBS Fawcett. It is a bit glamorized for delivering work. I always went to the art director’s office. Here, I’m sitting with one of the assistant art directors. I regret that the head art director, Dale Phillips, didn’t pose here. He was as handsome as any model, looked a lot like Paul Newman, and was every artist’s favorite art director, a wonderful man who gave many illustrators their start.

First Proof

Shows color bands along the side for printers to match to and is missing the gold lettering that is to come.

Final Book Cover

The finished book as you’d see it on the stands. The first cover I did for Victoria Holt books, The Spring of the Tiger, was a huge best seller, and for that reason CBS Fawcett commissioned me to do all of her back titles in the same style. This is one of the series, of nineteen covers, The Shivering Sands.

Elaine Gignilliat Covers

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