The Secret, Darker Art of Dr. Seuss

Theodore Suess Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, is a widely-celebrated children’s author and illustrator. He harbored a talent for rhyming and drawing unlike any other, allowing his legacy to stay with us even long after his death. Dr. Seuss is better recognized for his cheerful, colorful artwork. From The Cat in The Hat to Horton Hears a Who, his creativity and imagination are unmatched. However, a little-known hobby of Dr. Seuss includes his love for creating a secret, mature art series named The Midnight Paintings. This collection of around 200 paintings was made mysteriously during Dr. Seuss’ fame and was not meant to be seen by the public until after his death. Analyzing and interpreting these various paintings allow his fans to gain a deeper insight into the author’s personal life and struggles. 

The Midnight Paintings were painted by Geisel at night in the comfort of his own home. He felt no obligation to share them with others or appeal to children; instead, he let his freedom roar as he painted dark, more graphic pieces. Many of these paintings allowed Geisel to explore sensitive topics, such as aging, handling fame, fear of death, and more. For instance, in one of the more popular midnight paintings, Cat from the Wrong Side of the Tracks, we see a cat drawn incredibly similar to the children’s classic, The Cat in the Hat. However, this version paints a darker, gloomy mood. The cat is seen smoking a cigarette and playing a game of pool. The cat’s smoking habits align with those of Seuss, who was a lifelong smoker. He implemented dark colors and symbolism to demonstrate his fleeting sense of life and his negative emotions.

Many of the midnight paintings may even be interpreted as self-portraits of Dr. Seuss.  In fact, one of his paintings is labeled as a self-portrait: it shows an anxious, unhappy creature surrounded by an empty black space. This particular painting was released after his remarkable success with How the Grinch Stole Christmas, hinting that Dr. Seuss was perhaps struggling with the pressure of fame and anticipating his next work. This piece is a perfect example of how Seuss used his midnight paintings to cope with the various stressors of his everyday life. 

There are highly notable differences between Seuss’s midnight paintings and his other, more lighthearted work. One element that stands out in the midnight paintings is the use of the color black. In his art for children, Seuss uses a variety of colors and a white background. Black is rarely used; it’s likely only found in outlines or shading. Meanwhile, the midnight paintings are almost entirely composed of dark-toned colors. They have a gloomy and more ethereal quality which shows that they were made from more personal and leisure goals rather than storytelling ones. Additionally, these paintings tend to handle much more sensitive topics, such as anxiety, political scandals, life lessons, and more. 

While Dr. Seuss’s midnight paintings reveal some hidden sides to him that were previously unknown, they are also just as fun, creative, and humorous as his other work. Nevertheless, with more purposeful coloring and subject matter freedom, this series of paintings is genuinely surreal and one-of-a-kind!