An occupational hazard of reading as if you were living a hundred years ago is that you start turning into a curmudgeon. “Things were so much better in the 1910s,” you (okay: I) grumble on a regular basis, apropos of 1920. Not everything, of course—the 1910s had the war and the Spanish influenza, for starters, and with starters like that there’s no point racking your brain for additional examples. But some things definitely got worse.
“The First Shows of Summer,” Vanity Fair, August 1919
and hate poems.
“Our Office: A Hate Poem,” Vanity Fair, May 1919
And then there are the magazine covers. Every time I’ve thought about doing a magazine cover post in the last few months, I’ve found some dispiriting examples,
thought wistfully about the good old days,*
William Edouard Scott
and given up.
I wondered sometimes whether I was being fair. Maybe, like so many people, I was longing for a golden age that only existed in my mind. But how to measure such a thing?
And then inspiration struck. The magazines could duke it out, mano a mano, 1920 vs. the 1910s. I chose 1915 as the opponent, a nice round number but not so far back that it’s super-old-timey like this 1910 Ladies’ Home Journal cover:
As I assembled the covers, it dawned on me that maybe I still wasn’t being fair. What was to stop me from picking all the 1915 covers to prove a point? I pondered this for a while, and then the answer came to me: the people!
Normally, I’m very limited as to what I can do on this blog because I’m a wordpress.com member, meaning that WordPress hosts my blog as well as being the platform for designing it, as opposed to the far cooler wordpress.org members, whose blogs are hosted by other companies so they can get all sorts of plug-ins that don’t run on wordpress.com.** But one thing that wordpress.com lets you do now is run polls. And what’s more fun than a poll?***
So I leave it to you, the people, to decide, for each of the 16 magazines below, whether its September 1915 cover (top) or its September 1920 cover (bottom) is better. (In several cases, as it turns out, artists are competing against themselves.) The polls will stay open for a week, and the winners will be announced in early October. If the covers I’m rooting for don’t win, I promise to accept your verdict graciously. Because that’s what democracy is all about!
And, in case you find your energy flagging, there’s a prize at the end.
Helen Dryden, September 15, 1915
Helen Dryden, September 1, 1920
2. Harper’s Bazar
3. Ladies’ Home Journal
4. Vanity Fair
5. The Crisis
Sculpture by C. Matey
6. St. Nicholas
Charles Livingston Bull
8. Good Housekeeping
Jesse Wilcox Smith
9. The Masses/The Liberator****
10. The Smart Set
John Held Jr.
12. La Vie Parisienne
14. Saturday Evening Post
Charles Livingston Bull
Alfred E. Orr
16. The Best of the Rest
There were two covers that didn’t have a counterpart in the other year but that were too good to leave out, so I’ll let them face off.
That’s it, the hard work of voting is over. Now for the prize!
My friend and fellow blogger Deborah Kalb’s book Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat is being published this week. It’s the third in a series of books about the adventures of a group of fifth-grade friends who travel back in time and meet America’s founding presidents. The first three readers who let me know which magazine cover was their favorite will receive a free copy. You can post a comment below or drop me a line through the Contact page.******
I’ve read the book and highly recommend it—it’s a lot of fun but at the same time it engages seriously with the issue of slavery. As the U.S. prepares to choose its next president, the timing couldn’t be better. So hurry up and vote!
*I know, apples and oranges. But I’m describing a mental state, so bear with me.
**Like PUTTING PHOTOS SIDE BY SIDE, FOR EXAMPLE, WORDPRESS!
****The Masses, a socialist monthly, ceased publication in 1917 after editor Max Eastman and several staff members were charged with conspiring to obstruct conscription. Eastman and his sister Chrystal Eastman founded The Liberator in 1918.
*****Which I am very proud to tell you I deciphered from this:
******For readers living outside the United States, I’ll do my best to get a copy to you, but I can’t make any promises.
I’ve been in summer school at the University of Cape Town for the last three weeks, studying, among other things, Portuguese.* Between that, obsessing over the recently released archive of T.S. Eliot’s letters to his longtime love Emily Hale, and a pair of maritime mishaps that have been wreaking havoc on South Africa’s internet, I haven’t been able to get much blogging done. But it doesn’t seem right to let the first month of a new decade pass unrecognized, so I figured I’d look into how magazine covers ushered in the 1920s.**
The Saturday Evening Post rang in the new year with this J.C. Leyendecker cover. (The camel is a symbol of Prohibition.)
Sotheby’s website features this painting by Leyendecker, which may have been his original concept for the cover.
I can see why the Saturday Evening Post wouldn’t go for it, but this version makes more sense because without the bottle of whiskey what is the baby shushing us about?
That’s about it for New Year’s-themed covers.
Erté, as always, is at the helm at Harper’s Bazar, with this cover,
which, unusually, has some text on the illustration: “Begin Arnold Bennett’s New Essays on Women in this Issue.” I skimmed the essay, which was in equal parts irritating, boring, and off-topic.***
Vogue starts out the decade with a Georges Lepape cover featuring a person of color, but not in a good way:
This Vanity Fair cover is too good not to repeat. I’m not sure who the artist is, but I’m guessing John Held Jr. or possibly Gordon Conway. (Update 2/4/2019: It’s John Held Jr. I found the signature on a scanned copy of the magazine on Hathitrust.)
and a picture of movie star Norma Talmadge by Rolf Armstrong on Photoplay.****
The Crisis features a photograph of a woman from St. Lucia,
and Liberator has, um, something Bolshiviki by Lydia Gibson.
Life’s “Profiteers’ Number” features a cover by John Madison.
In sunny South Africa, I sighed over the snowy scenes on the covers of Literary Digest (by Norman Rockwell)
and Red Cross Magazine
and Country Life
and La Vie Parisienne.*****
If I could pick one snow scene to transport myself into, Mary Poppins-style, it would be this one, from St. Nicholas.
And, finally, two new****** publications that are well worth looking at: Shadowland, a beautifully designed movie magazine that features A.M. Hopfmuller as its regular cover artist,
and The Brownies’ Book, the first-ever magazine for African-American children, edited by, who else, W.E.B. Du Bois.
I’ll be following both of these exciting ventures in the months to come.
In the meantime, happy January, everyone. Or, as we say in Portuguese, feliz janeiro!
*The other things: Dante’s Purgatorio, special relativity, Rembrandt, Plato and Euclid, Vermeer, Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press, religious poetry, South African history and politics, and the Enlightenment. I tend to shop for summer school tickets like a hungry person at the supermarket.
**It turns out that when you put 1920 in Google it thinks you’re talking about the whole decade, so I keep having to sift through irrelevant pictures of flappers. It’s going to be an annoying year.
***But don’t worry, Virginia Woolf will, with her brilliant 1924 essay “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” (published by the aforementioned Hogarth Press), make Arnold Bennet regret that he’d ever SEEN a woman.
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, 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, 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 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!
Last year, my favorite leftist artist was Hugo Geller, 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!
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!
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 graduating from 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 for two years beginning in 1912.
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!
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:
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!
10. Norman Rockwell
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
****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.