Friday, December 1, 2017

"Money in the Face of the Modern Girl"

Time was when illustrators (and cartoonists) were celebrities and among the highest paid people in the arts and entertainment in America. Sidney Smith, for example, signed a contract in 1922 to draw a chinless wonder called Andy Gump at a rate of $100,000 a year for ten years. In 1935, Smith got a raise, his new contract guaranteeing him $150,000 annually for his work on the daily comic strip The Gumps. Unfortunately for Smith, the Grim Reaper came calling. Smith wrecked his car on October 20, 1935, and was instantly killed. Other artists were a little luckier and enjoyed comfortable, often lavish, lifestyles, especially in the artists colonies around New York City, in New Rochelle, New York, Silvermine, Connecticut, and Leonia, New Jersey, for example. Chicago Tribune staffer John T. McCutcheon, a Hoosier cartoonist and the longtime dean of American editorial cartoonists, even owned his own tropical island.

A good deal of the wealth and celebrity enjoyed by American illustrators and cartoonists was made possible by the technological advances of the late 1800s and early 1900s, advances that made the artwork printed in popular books, magazines, and newspapers evermore true to the original. In the Golden Age of Illustration, from about 1880 to about 1920, printing, paper, and binding improved in quality; American industry perfected methods of mass production and mass distribution; and large numbers of readers had a little extra time and a little extra cash to spend on popular entertainment. The popular press was where they got much of that entertainment, especially before movies came into their own. Art schools and art organizations proliferated during those years of 1880 to 1920 (and after). Art schools turned out myriads of illustrators, cartoonists, commercial artists, letterers, typographers, and designers. And if you were good enough and worked hard enough, you might succeed beyond your wildest dreams. Your name would daily, weekly, or monthly be before the American public, and that public would clamor for your work.

The Indianapolis Star was one newspaper to recognize the success and celebrity of the nation's magazine illustrators. On April 10, 1910, the Star printed on the front page of its magazine section an article called "Money in the Face of the Modern Girl." Written by an anonymous feature writer, the article opens:
"My face is my fortune, kind sir," the model said to the artist, and straightaway he reproduced her comely features in water colors [sic] upon his illustration board, and sold the painting to the art editor of a popular magazine, thereby receiving a check which enabled him to return to his lodgings without dodging the landlord and the tailor. The painting, printed with ravishing color effects on the front cover of the magazine, created such an increased demand for the periodical that the publishers told the art editor to take all the artists's work he could get. Thereupon the face of the model likewise became the fortune of the artist.
The article might be a little cynical in tone. Its author might have regretted the commercialization of art and the newfound wealth and prominence of the lowly commercial artist. But it reveals an important historical fact, namely, that color reproductions of art, especially art depicting the modern girl of the time, helped move books and magazines. In the process, the illustrator of the popular press became a recognized and respectable figure. Some made a banker's salary, and a sidebar to the article gives us a keyhole view into the past. I have transcribed the sidebar here:

Earnings of Leading Magazine Illustrators of Country.

Harrison Fisher . . . . . . . $75,000

Howard Chandler Christy . . . $50,000
Howard Pyle . . . . . . . . . $20,000
C.D. Gibson . . . . . . . . . $15,000
James Montgomery Flagg. . . . $15,000
Maxwell Parrish . . . . . . . $15,000
Frank X. Leyendecker. . . . . $12,000
Joseph C. Leyendecker . . . . $12,000
Orson Lowell. . . . . . . . . $12,000
Jessie Willcox Smith. . . . . $12,000
Sarah Stilwell Weber. . . . . $10,000
Elizabeth Shippen Green . . . $10,000
Frank L. [sic] Schoonover . . $10,000
George Brehm. . . . . . . . . .$8,000
Lucius W. Hitchcock . . . . . .$8,000
C. Allen [sic] Gilbert. . . . .$8,000
Henry Hutt. . . . . . . . . . .$8,000
Albert Wenzell. . . . . . . . .$8,000
A.I. Keller . . . . . . . . . .$8,000
Hamilton King . . . . . . . . .$7,500
John Cecil Clay . . . . . . . .$7,500
Walter Taylor . . . . . . . . .$7,500
F.C. Yohn. . . . . . . . .  . .$7,500
H.C. Raliegh [sic]. . . . . . .$7,500
Worth Brehm . . . . . . . . . .$5,000

(The names in bold are not bold in the original. I have made them that way to set the Hoosiers apart from their fellows. More on each of them below.)

Many of the names on this list will be familiar to fans of American illustration. Those in the top ranks of earnings are also among the top ranks of illustrators as artists, and they have been subject of countless books and articles published over the last century and more. The others deserve some attention, too, though. I'd like to go through all of the artists listed here, one by one, if only briefly.

Born in Brooklyn into a family of artists, Harrison Fisher (1875 or 1877-1934) was most well known for his pictures of the modern woman, known as the Fisher Girl and the American Girl, for Cosmopolitan, The American Weekly, and The Saturday Evening Post.

Although Ohioan Howard Chandler Christy (1872-1952) drew and painted pictures of war and the machines of war, he, like Fisher, was known for his young woman, the Christy Girl, of the 1910s and after.

Howard Pyle (1853-1911) is justly called the Father of Illustration in America. For about a decade he ran a school for artists and illustrators in his native Wilmington, Delaware. His students included some of the other artists on this list. Pyle died in Florence, Italy, and lies interred in a nondescript mausoleum in the back of a small cemetery for non-Catholics on the outskirts of that city. I have been to his grave. I wish that more people would pay it a visit and pay their respects to a great American artist.

Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944), a master of pen and ink, created the still-famous Gibson Girl, a hugely popular interpretation of the modern woman of the 1890s and early 1900s. The author of "Money in the Face of the Modern Girl" noted Gibson's decline in popularity as color reproduction was perfected in the early part of the twentieth century: Gibson worked almost exclusively in black and white.

Like Gibson, James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) was an Easterner and an artist of the city and its society. His rendering of Uncle Sam--a self-portrait--has become an icon of American popular art, but Flagg, like his contemporaries Fisher and Christy, excelled at drawing and painting young and attractive women.

Maxwell Parrish (1870-1966) of Philadelphia and New Hampshire was a magician of light, color, design, and technique. It would not be any overstatement to say that he stood alone among the artists on this list and of his time--no one I know of has since matched his accomplishments as a painter who seemed to have captured sunlight in his pigments. He was and still is an extraordinarily well-admired artist.

Frank X. Leyendecker (1876-1924) and Joseph C. Leyendecker (1874-1951) were German-born artists and one of two sets of brothers on this list. Frank died young. Joseph was known for his ultra-sophisticated men and women, especially for his famous Arrow Collar man.

Though born in Iowa, Orson Lowell (1871-1956) drew pictures of life in society. His style and subject matter are similar to those of Charles Dana Gibson, although his pen work is perhaps finer and more controlled, almost to a photographic effect in many of his pictures.

Philadelphian Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935) was and is renowned for her sensitive and beautifully rendered images of children and their mothers. She created illustrations for advertising, magazines, and children's books. For several years, she shared a studio with other women artists, including Violet Oakley and Elizabeth Shippen Green.

Sarah Stilwell Weber (1878-1939) of Pennsylvania studied with Howard Pyle and was a friend and associate of other women artists. She, too, created advertising art and illustrations, including sixty covers for The Saturday Evening Post.

Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954), also of Pennsylvania and also a student of Howard Pyle, illustrated books and magazines, including Harper's Magazine, St. Nicholas Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, and Woman's Home Companion.

Born in New Jersey, Frank E. Schoonover (1877-1972) studied under Howard Pyle and created the same kind of heroic and adventurous illustration, of war, history, fantasy, pirates, and the American West. Schoonover taught at the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis in 1927 and possibly later.

An illustration created by Frank Schoonover for the John Carter of Mars stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Note the date: this picture was made one hundred years ago.

There are three native-born Hoosiers on the list above, starting with George Brehm (1878-1966). Born in Anderson, Indiana, Brehm attended Indiana University and cartooned for The Arbutus, soon after for the Indianapolis Star. Like so many artists from the Midwest, he headed to New York City to find his fame and make his fortune. Brehm created illustrations for most of the popular slick magazines of his day, as well as for many books and advertisements, including for Coca-Cola.

"Misbehaving" by George Brehm.

There must have been something about Indiana boyhood that stuck with Hoosier artists of the early twentieth century, for they returned to that subject again and again. George Brehm and his brother Worth were only two of the artists of boyhood. Others included John T. McCutcheon, Gaar Williams, and Merrill Blosser of Freckles and His Friends fame. 

Lucius W. Hitchcock (1868-1942) is not well represented on the Internet, despite his success as an illustrator of books and magazines, including Harper's. Hitchcock also created illustrations for The Conquest of Canaan (1905) by Hoosier author Booth Tarkington. Although Hitchcock was born in Ohio and not in Indiana, I would like to show one of his pictures here to correct in some small part the fact that he has been overlooked, at least in the digital realm.

An fine illustration by Lucius W. Hitchcock from Harper's Magazine, March 1910.

Born in Connecticut, Charles Allan Gilbert (1873-1929) was an illustrator and animator, and a camouflage artist during World War I. He is most well known for his memento mori picture All Is Vanity, from 1892.

Chicagoan Henry Hutt (1875-1950) began working as a professional artist when he was still a teenager. He created all kinds of illustration but was especially popular for his depictions of young women.

Born in Detroit, Albert Wenzell (1864-1917) studied art in Germany and France but was in no way an art snob. He wrote:
It seems to me, after many years spent abroad, with the consequent opportunity for comparison, that American art has advanced amazingly, further than is generally appreciated at home or abroad. The average American, for instance, admires the drawing of American girls by American Artists. But he rarely goes abroad to have his portrait painted.
American artists excel, it seems to me, in color. There are half a dozen men here now--I don't refer to several well known American artists living abroad—no, there are New York men whose work is not familiar, but whose talent is the first order. It is most unfortunate that our home talent is not more appreciated and encouraged. I have little sympathy with the idea that an artist must live abroad in some so-called art centre. If a man be an artist it makes little difference where he lives. (1)
New Yorker Arthur I. Keller (1867-1924) was a painter and an illustrator of many books of the Golden Age.

Hamilton King (1871-1941) created not one type of girl but two, his Coca-Cola Girl and his Hamilton King Girl for Turkish Trophies Cigarettes. He worked in pastel for many of his illustrations. His clients included Theatre Magazine.

John Cecil Clay (1875-1930) hailed from West Virginia. Like so many of his contemporaries, he drew lots of young, attractive women. His illustrations appeared in The Century Magazine, Good HousekeepingFrank Leslie's Popular Monthly, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, and Good Housekeeping.

Walter Taylor (1860-1943) was the oldest artist on the list above and the only Briton. I'm not sure why he would be included in a list of "Leading Magazine Illustrators of Country."

Renowned for his historical illustrations, Frederick Coffay Yohn (1875-1933) got his start in his native city working for the Indianapolis News in the 1890s. By the turn of the century, he was in New York City and creating illustrations for leading magazines, especially Scribner's. His work has been reproduced on at least two U.S. postage stamps.

An illustration by F.C. Yohn from The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in an edition of 1926.

Early in his career, Yohn specialized in historical scenes and scenes of war and action, but he was equally good at more sedate tableaux, such as in this illustration. I don't know the source or the date, but I suspect this is from the period 1895-1910, judging from the artist's technique.

"You Can't Do That!" by Yohn, from Scribner's, August 1914, the month and year in which the Great War began. If you think steampunk is something new, think again: artists and authors of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were busy at this kind of thing long before any of us were born. For more on Yohn, go to the following URL:

Born in Oregon, Henry Patrick Raleigh (1880-1944) was the only Westerner on this list. He was an extremely prolific and popular artist, illustrating, for example, more than 500 stories in The Saturday Evening Post. Even during the Great Depression, he was making more than $100,000 a year.

Worth Brehm (1883-1928) was the younger brother of George Brehm and like him was born in Anderson. Although he was an accomplished colorist, Brehm often worked in charcoal. He specialized in drawings of children, including for the Penrod stories of Booth Tarkington, which appeared in Cosmopolitan.

Another bit of misbehavior in the classroom, this time by Worth Brehm.

Finally, an illustration by Worth Brehm from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.

I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Happy New Year!

(1)  Quoted on the website of the Society of Illustrators, here.

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley