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American Beauties: Drawings from the Golden Age of Illustration

Online Exhibition

Unless otherwise noted, all items are preserved in the Cabinet of American Illustration, Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.

Head of girl with long blonde hair
Wladyslaw T. Benda
(1873-1948)
Head of girl with long blonde hair, ca. 1923
Watercolor, charcoal, and colored pencil on paper
Published as cover of
Hearst's International Magazine
, April 1923 (1)

Polish-born Wladyslaw T. Benda pursued art training in Krakow and Vienna before coming to the United States at the turn of the century to begin his career as an illustrator. He created his own idealized beauty, the "Benda Girl," whose elongated, almond-shaped eyes and exotic appearance distinguished her from other American types. The example here, done for Hearst's International, was one of hundreds of images for magazines Benda did before turning his attention to theatrical masks late in his career.

In this drawing of a blonde girl with earrings, stylishly short hair, and flawless features, Benda fashioned an enchanting vision that was glamorous and up-todate for the era. His skillful modeling of forms, attention to detail, and use of strong color enabled him to create dramatic, balanced designs. This and similar drawings by Benda graced the covers and pages of numerous magazines such as Hearst's International, Cosmopolitan, Liberty, Redbook, St. Nicholas, and the Saturday Evening Post.

Girl with earrings
Wladyslaw T. Benda
(1873-1948)
Girl with earrings, ca. 1924
Watercolor, charcoal, graphite, and brush and ink on paper
Published as cover of
Hearst's International Magazine
, ca. 1924 (2)

There Was a Woman Standing in the Door as Though Posed in the Dark Wood of a Frame
Wladyslaw T. Benda
(1873-1948)
There Was a Woman Standing in the Door as Though Posed in the Dark Wood of a Frame, ca. 1918
Charcoal on paper
Published in "The Sun Burned Lady" by Melville Davisson Post, Hearst's International Magazine, December 1918 (3)

In addition to cover art, Wladyslaw T. Benda created many illustrations for short stories in magazines. Benda depicts the sudden entrance of Mrs. Danvers Buller, a "Southeastern beauty" into the story, as she makes a mysterious, nocturnal visit to a chemist. Benda illuminates her form from the lower left so that she stands out dramatically against the towering shadow that she casts on the right. Her dazzling appearance in evening dress and jewelry and her watchful gaze to the left contribute to a mood of intrigue and expectation.

Creator of the "Brinkley Girl," female illustrator Nell Brinkley, a pioneer in the field, drew idealistic, active young women for newspaper stories that she wrote. In this image, Brinkley depicts "Golden Eyes," the World War I heroine of her illustrated serialized story that was probably published in the New York Journal, around 1918-1919, according to Trina Robbins, Brinkley's biographer. Brinkley employs a fine-lined Art Nouveau style in portraying her heroine Golden Eyes, who promoted the sale of Liberty Bonds and supported overseas war efforts. She embodies women's active patriotism during the war. Unlike most of her peers, Brinkley also depicted beauties of different cultures and races.

Golden Eyes with Uncle Sam (dog)
Nell Brinkley
(1886-1944)
Golden Eyes with Uncle Sam (dog), ca. 1918
Watercolor, ink, gouache, and opaque white over graphite under drawing on illustration board
Swann Fund purchase (4)

Katherine Hepburn
Jaro Fabry
(1912-1953)
Katherine Hepburn, ca. 1937
Published as cover of Cinema Arts, 1937
Watercolor and gouache on paper
Swann Fund purchase (5)

Jaro Fabry began his career as an artist soon after graduating from Yale University in 1933. His work was published in The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Colliers, Town and Country, and Cinema Arts. Fabry applies watercolor with loose free brushwork to achieve a fresh, spontaneous portrayal of the actress Katherine Hepburn.

When Charles Dana Gibson introduced the "Gibson Girl" in Life in the 1890s, she set a standard for physical beauty that lasted for two decades. Gibson depicted his tall, graceful ideal as an equal companion to man and showed her engaged in diverse activities out of doors. He occasionally highlighted her humorous, teasing side, as seen in this amusing scene in which Gibson Girls fly kite-men and clearly enjoy toying with their minuscule male companions.

Summer Sports
Charles Dana Gibson
(1867-1944)
Summer Sports, ca. 1904
Ink over graphite under drawing on illustration board
Published in Life, June 2, 1904 (6)

The Sweetest Story Ever Told
Charles Dana Gibson
(1867-1944)
The Sweetest Story Ever Told, ca. 1910
Ink over graphite on illustration board
Published in Collier's Weekly, August 13, 1910 (7)

Charles Dana Gibson worked almost exclusively in black and white, skillfully using pen-and-ink like a paintbrush in creating the "Gibson Girl," his tall, narrow-waisted ideal. He portrayed her as multi-faceted and highlighted her interests and talents as seen in this drawing of a violin player. Following her initial appearance in Life in the 1890s, the Gibson Girl gained widespread popularity--being featured in varied media, including plays, songs, and advertisements, and on products such as wallpaper.

Fashion and glamour intertwine markedly in images of American beauties in the 1910s-1920s. Though John Held, Jr., is best remembered for his images of flappers rendered in a highly linear, dynamic manner, he reveals another aspect of his artistic persona in this example of his work. He depicts an exotic beauty in elegant evening dress in an unusually detailed, vividly colored drawing that also is a striking example of Art Deco style.

Elegant woman in silver dress holding a fan
John Held, Jr.
(1889-1958)
Elegant woman in silver dress holding a fan, n.d.
Watercolor, metallic silver paint, gouache,
and graphite on paper
Swann Foundation Fund purchase (8)

Couple Lighting Cigarettes
Georges LePape
(1887-1971)
Couple Lighting Cigarettes, ca. 1919
Gouache over graphite on bristol board
Published in Vanity Fair, December 1919 (9)

Paris-born illustrator Georges Lepape was also a painter, designer, and engraver. Like Russell Patterson(1893-1977), he possessed an exceptional talent for fashion illustration, which enabled him to pursue an impressive career in France before American art editors discovered him. Lepape created this drawing of a couple smoking at a time when this pleasure was regarded as glamorous, as well as mildly risqué when done by women. Lepape makes minimal use of modeling and relies on the graphic power of elegant, outlined forms, linear patterns of clothing, and trailing smoke to compose a strongly decorative, eye-catching design.

Like John Held, Jr., Russell Patterson created images of flappers that earned him wide popular and professional recognition. In this drawing, Patterson depicts a classic beauty of the 1920s lost in revery. The jagged hem of her sleeveless dress and angle of her bent arm play off against the delicate loops of smoke wafting across black space.

Where There's Smoke There's Fire
Russell Patterson
(1893-1977)
Where There's Smoke There's Fire, ca. 1920s
India, red and brown inks, and
watercolor on illustration board (10)

Know All Men by These Presents
Coles Phillips
(1880-1927)
Know All Men by These Presents, ca. 1910
Gouache, watercolor, and charcoal on illustration board
Published as cover, Life, January 27, 1910
Bendiner Fund Purchase (11)

Coles Phillips developed his idealistic portrayals of American women in the early twentieth century after the Gibson Girl appeared. Phillips's girls, who graced the covers of Life, Good Housekeeping, and other magazines, were rivaled in popularity and beauty only by those of Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944). This drawing represents an excellent example of Phillips's unique "Fadeaway Girl," a design tour-de-force in which he uses negative space brilliantly to compose a dynamic, innovative, and attractive image in which the main emphasis falls upon the head and hands of the beauty. In this and other examples, he depicts the main part of the figure--usually the clothing--so that it blends into the background.

Brooklyn-born Ethel McClellan Plummer came of age artistically after the introduction of modern European and American art into an increasingly urban American society. Shaped by these influences, Plummer depicts American beauties in an urban setting, as stylish, flattened figures, defined by sophisticated use of line, color, and pattern, as in this drawing for Vanity Fair. Plummer made cover designs and illustrations in the 1920s and 1930s for magazines of sophisticated fashion such as Vogue and Vanity Fair, as well as publications with broader appeal such as Life, Women's Home Companion, Shadowland, and the New York Tribune.

Vanity Fair on the Avenue
Ethel McClellan Plummer
(1888-1936)
Vanity Fair on the Avenue, 1914
Watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper board
Published in Vanity Fair, June 1914 (12)

Woman dancing on the shore
Rita Senger
(active 1915-1930s)
Woman dancing on the shore, ca. 1916
Gouache, watercolor over graphite on watercolor board
Published as cover of Vanity Fair, July 1916 (13)

Rita Senger renders her young beauty as a lithe, graceful, open form dancing on a shore. Wearing a simple black dress, she glides forward to the left, her streaming hair emphasizing her motion. Senger's boldly simplified forms with little modeling share traits in common with the forms of other artists working in modernist styles, such as Plummer and Patterson. Senger created striking cover designs for Vogue and Vanity Fair, whose audiences were highly sophisticated and urban.

Charlotte Harding depicts a tall, stately beauty, whose figure, demure dress, and elegant ease conform closely to Gibson's influential icon of American womanhood. Her drawing illustrated a story in Century by male author Eliot Gregory, who commented with great skepticism on the growing independence of women at the turn of the century. Harding was one of a cadre of unusually talented, hard-working women illustrators who were educated and worked in Philadelphia during America's "golden age of illustration."

A "quick change"--for the rest of the afternoon
Charlotte Harding
(1873-1951)
A "quick change"--for the rest of the afternoon, ca. 1901
Charcoal, wash, and opaque white on layered paper
Published in "Our Foolish Virgins" by Eliot Gregory, Century, November 1901 (14)

Too Chary of Their Complexions to Brave the Sun
Frederic Rodrigo Gruger (1871-1953)
Too Chary of Their Complexions
to Brave the Sun
,
ca. 1914
Crayon and wash on paper
Published in "The Goldfish,"
Saturday Evening Post
, January 10, 1914 (15)

Frederic Gruger's training as a newspaper illustrator developed his rapid-fire execution and broad imagination, both of which enabled him to fashion a productive career in story illustration. His drawings had a depth of tone that was perfect for the black-and-white images in the Saturday Evening Post, his primary employer. The elegant woman drawn by Gruger departs from the Gibson type. Less aloof, thinner, but still conservatively dressed, she foreshadows Held's flapper in pose and appearance.

Instantly recognizable, Held's colorful drawings of flirtatious, flippant flappers and "Joe College" were widely published in such magazines as Judge, Life, The New Yorker, College Humor, and Harper's Bazaar. In this cover drawing for Life, we see a later form of Held's flapper, who, with her longer face and upturned nose, appears less cartoon-like than her grinning companion. The multi-talented Held also designed costumes and sets for musical reviews, wrote and illustrated books, and created comic strips, including Oh! Margy (later Merely Margy), Joe Prep, and Rah Rah Rosalie.

The Girl Who Gave Him the Cold Shoulder
John Held, Jr.
(1889-1958)
The Girl Who Gave Him
the Cold Shoulder
,
ca. 1925
Gouache on illustration board
Cover of Life (16)

Young woman sitting beside table holding umbrella
Edward Penfield
1866-1925)
Young woman sitting beside table
holding umbrella, 1910-1925
Watercolor, gouache, and ink over graphite on paper
Advertisement for Hart,
Schaffner, & Marx clothes (17)

Edward Penfield gained fame as a graphic designer in the 1890s, when he and Will Bradley (1868-1962) led the American poster renaissance. Subsequently, when he became the art director for Harper's magazine, his graphic designs of elegant women remained in demand as both magazine covers and advertisements. Here the clean lines and simple composition make an easily read advertisement for Hart, Schaffner, & Marx, a men's clothing firm that engaged Penfield's talents for many years.

Harrison Fisher's sophisticated young beauties graced the majority of covers of Cosmopolitan between 1912 and 1934. This image of a well-dressed woman in evening clothes was one of the last works he completed and was published a few months after his death in January 1934. His "Fisher Girl" became a notable rival to the Gibson Girl and the Christy Girl.

Harrison Fisher (1875-1934)
Young woman holding a rose, ca. 1934
Cover of Hearst's International
combined with Cosmopolitan, April 1934 (19)

Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952)
Young woman holding skates, ca. 1924
Cover of Motor, February 1924 (20)

Among the best known of "pretty girl" illustrators, Howard Chandler Christy was considered so knowledgeable about beautiful women that he was chosen to be the sole judge of the first Miss America contest, held in 1921. Christy first won notice when drawings he made while he accompanied U.S. troops to Cuba during the Spanish-American War were published in Scribners and Leslie's Weekly. Not long after, he concentrated on drawings of beautiful women that were published in McClure's and other magazines, and the "Christy Girl" came to rival the Gibson Girl and Fisher Girl.


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