Happy Thanksgiving! Or, as we say in South Africa, “Happy Normal Day When Spouses’ Employers Schedule Evening Work Events!”
So I won’t be celebrating with turkey this year, but I do want to pause to think about some people of 1919 I’m particularly thankful for. Last year, I thanked some of my most admired people from 1918. This year, as the end of the decade rolls around, I’m celebrating the illustrators of the 1910s who made the decade such a visual delight to go back to. You can learn about their lives, or, if you’re too zonked out from overeating, skip the words and feast your eyes on their beautiful art.
- Gordon Conway
Gordon Conway, who despite her name was a woman, was born in Texas in 1894, the daughter of wealthy parents. Encouraged in her artistic aspirations by her globetrotting mother, she began her career with Condé Nast at the age of 20. She also designed costumes for film and the stage in New York and in Europe, where she moved in 1920 with her husband. The marriage didn’t last long, but she stayed in London, living with her mother. Conway’s work ethic was legendary, but ill health forced her into early retirement in 1937. She returned to the United States as World War II approached, moved to a family estate in Virginia, and died in 1956.
Here’s how Vanity Fair described her in a contributors column in August 1919:
She is one of the more temperamentally inclined of the younger artistic set; she finds it absolutely impossible to get any real stuff into her sketches unless she is sitting in the midst of her pale lavender boudoir, and wearing a green brocaded robe de chambre lined with dull gold and having a single rose on the shoulder. Miss Conway is justly proud of the fact that she draws entirely by ear—never had a lesson in her life.
Here are two of her covers for the magazine,
here is one that Condé Nast lists as “artist unknown” but sure looks like her,
and here is an illustration that Vanity Fair rejected but was later used as a Red Cross poster:
The “new women” Conway portrayed helped shape an era.
Thank you, Gordon!
- Georges Lepape
Georges Lepape, born in 1887 in Paris, was a regular cover artist for Vogue. He lived in France, aside from a brief stint at Condé Nast in New York. He died in 1971.
Here are some of his Vogue covers from 1919,
and here’s one from Vanity Fair.
- John Held Jr.
John Held Jr. was born in Salt Lake City in 1889, the son of a British convert to Mormonism. He went to high school with future New Yorker founder Harold Ross, a lifelong friend and associate. Held had just about the best job you could have as a soldier in World War I, supposedly copying hieroglyphics from Mayan ruins in Central America but really drawing maps of the coastline and keeping an eye out for German submarines.*
My family had an anthology of New Yorker cartoons when I was growing up, and Held’s woodcuts used to give me the creeps.** So I was surprised to see that he was the artist behind some of Vanity Fair’s cheeriest covers, like these:
Held would go on to do cover illustrations for F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Like a Fitzgerald character, he lived a riotous life, marrying four times, earning a fortune, losing most of it in the 1929 stock market crash, and suffering a nervous breakdown. Fitzgerald notwithstanding, his life did have a second act: he designed the sets for the phenomenally successful 1937 Broadway revue Helzapoppin and served as an artist-in-residence at Harvard. He died in 1958.
Thank you, John!
- Frank Walts
Last year, my favorite leftist artist was Hugo Gellert, who did several cover illustrations for The Liberator. I couldn’t find a trace of him in 1919, though. Luckily, the progressive press had another talented illustrator, Frank Walts.
Walts was born in Indiana (like a surprisingly large number of people I’ve come across in 1919***) in 1877. His art appeared frequently on the cover of The Masses, which shut down in 1917 amid legal problems and was succeeded by The Liberator. He drew the January and February 1918 covers for the NAACP magazine The Crisis,
both of which I featured on my blog without paying much attention to Walts because I was new at this and not focused on who drew what.
In 1919, Walts drew the cover illustration for the annual children’s issue of The Crisis in October
as well as the magazine’s July 1919 issue
and the December 1919 issue of The Liberator, which shines in an otherwise mediocre year of Liberator cover art.
Walts, who also worked as a civil engineer, would go on to illustrate many more covers for The Crisis and The Liberator. He died in 1941.
Thank you, Frank!
- Helen Dryden
I wrote about Dryden in my post for Women’s History Month, so you can read about her life there and enjoy more of her Vogue covers here:
Thank you, Helen!
- Coles Phillips.
I first noticed Coles Phillips as the artist behind this haunting hosiery ad:
He was born in Ohio in 1880, moved to New York after a few years at Kenyon college, took night classes in art for a few months, and soon established his own advertising agency, because that’s how life worked in 1919, for some people, anyway. Among his employees was the young Edward Hopper. He joined the staff of Life magazine in 1907 and drew his first “fadeaway girl” cover the next year.
He repeated this technique on many subsequent covers of Life and other magazines, including Good Housekeeping, where he was the sole cover artist from 1912 to 1916.
By 1919, though, he was focusing mostly on advertising, and specifically on women’s legs.****
He contracted tuberculosis in 1924 and died of a kidney ailment in 1927, at the age of 46.
Thank you, Coles!
- Eric Rohman
Remember Selma Lagerlöf, the Nobel Prize-winning Swedish author I wrote about in September? In the course of researching her life, I came across some amazing Swedish posters for silent films, some of them made from her books. Digging around, I discovered that most are the work of the incredibly prolific Eric Rohman.
Rohman was born in Sweden in 1891. He became an actor and illustrator in the mid-1910s and opened an art studio in about 1920, where he designed posters for Swedish and foreign films. By his own estimate, he produced 7000 posters over the course of his career. He died in 1949.
Here are some of my favorites:
- George Brandt
House & Garden is one of those 1919-era magazines that consistently punches above its weight in terms of cover art, but in an unassuming way, so it had never occurred to me to ask who the artists behind my favorite covers were.
One of them, I learned, is Henry George Brandt. (The other is Harry Richardson, but there is even less information available about him online than there is about Brandt, so Brandt it is.) Brandt was born in Germany in 1862, immigrated to the United States in 1882, and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1911 to 1916. (Yes, in his fifties!) He was a painter and muralist as well as an illustrator. He died in Chicago in 1946.
Here are some of his House & Garden covers:
Thank you, George!
Erté is a repeat–he was one of the people I was thankful for last year. But you can’t talk about illustration in 1919 without talking about him. He was born in Russia in 1894 (real name Romain de Tirtoff–his father wanted him to be a naval officer and he adopted the pseudonym to avoid embarrassing his family*****). He moved to Paris as a young man and began a career as an illustrator and costume designer; Mata Hari was among his clients. Harper’s Bazar hired him in 1915; he would go on to illustrate over 200 covers for the magazine. He later went into theater, designing sets and costumes for ballets, revues, and films. He died in Paris in 1960.
I wasn’t able to find most of Erté’s 1919 Harper’s Bazar covers–they’re missing from Hathitrust, the most reliable source of online magazines, and few and far between on the internet. Here are two I was able to find:
Спасибо (and merci), Erté!
It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without Norman Rockwell. In 1919, his iconic 1943 Thanksgiving picture Freedom from Want was still far in the future, but he did do a Thanksgiving cover for the November 22 issue of Literary Digest:
Rockwell is one of those people I was surprised to come across in the 1910s because he lived well into my lifetime. (Anthologist Louis Untermeyer and poet Marianne Moore are others.) And he was pretty young then, born in New York in 1894. An early bloomer, he became the art editor of Boy’s Life magazine at the age of 19. His first cover for the Saturday Evening Post appeared in May 1916;
322 others were to follow.
The humor magazines Life and Judge published some illustrations apparently deemed not wholesome enough for the Saturday Evening Post, like this one
By the time of his death in 1978, Rockwell was one of America’s most beloved artists.
Thank you, Norman!
And last but definitely not least, thanks to all of you who, over the past two years, have turned a personal project into a community. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
(UPDATE 11/30/2019: They had turkey–with cranberry sauce–at the work event. So I had my Thanksgiving dinner after all!)
*Although I wonder how many people were fooled into thinking that copying hieroglyphics was a real soldier job.
**They’re still under copyright, but there are lots of them posted online by less scrupulous people than me.
***Others: author Booth Tarkington, food safety pioneer Harvey Wiley, The Little Review founder Margaret Anderson, and African-American painter William Edouard Scott. Hoosier poet James Witcomb Riley had died in 1916 but still loomed large.
****UPDATE 12/3/2019: I originally included this ad, which I’d seen identified as being from 1919. I had my doubts, because it seemed too risqué for 1919, plus would Phillips really have been working for competing hosiery companies? But I was in a rush so I put it in. Turned out I was right: it’s from 1924.
*****No doubt unaware that it would gain him immortality as a crossword puzzle clue.