Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Original Varga Girl: Still looking good as she approaches 70

June 3, 2009

Posted by Noah

It may not be entirely appropriate to say that Alberto Vargas saved Esquire in October 1940, when the very first Varga Girl appeared in the magazine's popular gatefold, but within a year the magazine had added 125,000 readers. Look at the picture, do the math, and you'll arrive at the same conclusion. It was Vargas all the way.

Now, a preliminary drawing from the hand of Alberto Vargas, for what would become the very first Varga Girl in the December 1940 issue of Esquire Magazine, is one of the principal highlights of the July 15 Signature® Illustration Art Auction at Heritage. This is the first auction to feature major Illustration Art highlights from The Estate of Charles Martignette, the most important collection of illustration art to ever come to public auction. The drawing is estimated bring between $20,000-$30,000. And she's a real beauty.

Here's a quote from Ed Jaster, our Illustration honcho here at the fort, from the press release I have spent this morning preparing:

“This particular image is not the one that ultimately appeared in the December 1940 issue of Esquire, but it is her very first incarnation,” said Ed Jaster, Director of Illustration Art at Heritage. “From this single drawing Alberto Vargas would become one of the greatest and most famous illustrators of the 20th century. It is extremely finished and exactly rendered, and is as detailed as many of his final artworks, indicating the importance he placed on it.”

In the late 1930s, it was George Petty – his Petty Girls – that dominated the Esquire gatefolds. These popular drawings were the main graphic draw for readers of the time, but that readership – much to the frustration of Esquire’s publisher – was mostly static. The magazine soon devised a double gatefold to showcase Petty’s buxom babes, and to boost Esquire’s lethargic circulation numbers.

Petty wanted more money, sat out the whole of 1940, and the magazine began the thorny task of finding a replacement for its most popular illustrator. The search proved fruitless for the first half of the year, but on a warm June day their prayers were answered: 44-year-old Alberto Vargas, looking for work, walked into Esquire’s Manhattan headquarters and asked if they might be interested in his services. The rest is history.

This is just a single example of the truly great art that Charles Martignette assembled in his life, just a single example among all the great one that are in this collection.

I know I am easily excitable when it comes to all the amazing stuff Heritage has around, but I can't re-iterate enough just how amazing this whole collection is, across the board pretty much. If you have some time, take a little while and look through the paintings that make this auction.

You can thank me later.

Click on the title of this post to leave a comment.

-Noah Fleisher

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