A few months ago I was contacted by Scott Lindberg (dcmnts) and Aaron Cohen (www.projectobjectstore.com), who are both lovers of graphic design and record cover art. Scott wrote he was doing research on the American graphic designer S. Neil Fujita, world famous for his colorful paintings on album covers Time Out (Dave Brubeck, 1959) and Mingus Ah Um (Charles Mingus, 1959), and for the iconic book cover illustrations for Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966) and Mario Puzo’s The Godfather (1969).
Fujita also was art director for Columbia Records from 1954 until 1957. Scott wrote: “I’ve seen Andy Warhol’s name come up as illustrator for record sleeve art where S. Neil Fujita was art director. I’m trying to ascertain which covers those may be (if any).”
Now that’s the kind of question I love! My guess immediately was that the most likely contenders would be the two covers Warhol did in 1956 for the Epic label, which was a division of Columbia/CBS: 4 Divertimenti, Mozart (Epic, LC 3081) and Chopin: Nocturnes (Epic, SC 6007, 2 LP’s in a slipbox).
And indeed, after a while I found this seems to be the case. Among the pictures of illustration orders to Warhol I was allowed to make during my visit to Matt Wrbican at the Warhol Museum archive last Summer, also was the order for the Chopin: Nocturnes album which does mention Neil Fujita. Q.E.D.!
The releases on the Epic label mainly were recordings made in Europe. The rendition by Polish pianist Jan Smeterlin of Chopin’s 20 Nocturnes was recorded in France, in October 1954, for the Philips label. They were released by Philips (probably in 1955) on two seperate LP’s. Epic at first released the recordings as a double album in a slipcase (SC 6007). The order to Warhol for the illustration was dated April 25, 1955.
Epic also released the album on 2 separate LP’s, LC 3151 and LC 3152. Drawing on all three covers is the same, but there is a slight difference in coloring: on the slipcase (SC 6007) background is white, “Chopin : Nocturnes” is written in red. For the two separate LP’s the background is rather ivory white to yellowish, lettering is either blue (Vol. I, LC 3151) or green (Vol. II, LC 3152)
In 2016 I bought Warhol’s original ink drawing for the Nocturnes album cover, at a Christie’s online auction, directly from the vaults of the Andy Warhol Foundation. A beautiful, delicate drawing, to accompany Chopin’s beautiful, delicate music. The three fireflies suggest that the flower scene we see is in the night, as do the titles of Chopin’s romantic tunes.