Those eyes! I remembered those sad eyes on a sea of deep blue, and then the details came flooding back. It’s been over twenty years since I read The Great Gatsby, but once I recalled the title, a quick search revealed that this design by Francis Cugat covered the first edition of the book in 1925.
I often wonder if visual meaning is a product of the content as well as how my eye moves through a composition, and I read this cover from top to bottom through three roughly equal horizontal bands of information culminating in the author’s name. Those eyes lead me immediately to the pale yellow title atop a very saturated blue in comparison. Then an empty face emerges from a monotone field. Its negative space and mood contrasts with the explosion of colors and liveliness in the scene below. Is that an amusement park, a city skyline, a fiery explosion? It hints at contradictory story inside, one of perhaps sorrow amid enjoyment and of course, greatness.
The typeface, almost consistent throughout, frames these abstract graphic elements into one scene. Notice the introductory, “The,” for extra special emphasis. Nearly all of the colors of the rainbow are present, but blue dominates, followed by yellow. Usually a calming color, combined with the eerily floating eyes and gestures of a portrait, the desest of the blue only adds to the mystery.