In September of 1933, a brash start-up magazine hit the newsstands, despite the 50 cent cover price, skyrocketed to success. Copies of “Esquire” magazine flew off the racks. One newsstand sold 2,000 copies in one week. During the times before mass media, and even television, there were merely newspapers and magazines that stacked every street corner for news and entertainment, and the distributors begged for more to keep up with the demand.
It wasn’t just the articles geared towards men that drew the popularity. Inside the pages of this little magazine that featured articles, fashion, and commentary, were airbrushed cartoons of leggy women in slinky outfits. These innocent looking, but mildly erotic images gained popularity during the Depression Era, and soon with the soldiers of WWII.
Alberto Vargas (1896-1982) was a notable painter of pin-up girls. His work has sold for tens of thousands of dollars.
Gaining popularity with the soldiers of World War II by creating some of the best renditions of cartoon pin-up girls for Esquire magazine, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor when a judgement was placed against the publication. Alberto Vargas struggled until Hugh Hefner included his work as a showpiece “Vargas Girls” in Playboy magazine. His career flourished, and he had major exhibitions all around the world. Ahh, the wonders of the imagination and the stroke of an airbrush genius!
By 1946, the magazine had squeezed a lot of creativity out of Vargas, and he parted ways. After he left Esquire magazine, he couldn’t even use his own name, as the magazine acquired rights to his work as “The Varga Girl” (dropped the s)
Vargas struggled after the end of his stint at Esquire magazine when the Supreme Court of the United States heard the case that the magazine represented “indecent and vulgar” material. But when Hugh Hefner hired him for Playboy magazine, the Vargas Pin Up Girl was back in action, and Vargas became a household name once again.
The Varga Girl had evolved into The Vargas Girl, with a new generation of fans. Vargas had a technique with the airbrush that allowed him to achieve the subtle tone and warmth of skin. He applied layers of color for a most realistic representation of a beautiful woman.
Other artists attained fame for the illustrious realism of the “Pin Up Girl” such as George Petty, and the style was moved forward with realistic cartoon images when Norman Rockwell’s paintings graced the covers of the Saturday Evening Post. But the Vargas Girl lives on as classic as ever.
Alberto Vargas published an autobiography in 1978, which renewed interest in his work and brought him out of a self-imposed retirement. He was commissioned to do album covers for musicians, like a little known band at the time called: The Cars, arguably their best album “Candy-o”
The idea to hire Vargas for the Cars album cover came from drummer David Robinson, the band’s artistic director and a collector of pin-ups. The 83-year-old Vargas had retired several years earlier but was persuaded to take the assignment by his niece, who was a fan of The Cars. The painting, depicting a girl sprawled across the hood of a car, was based on a photo shoot directed by Robinson at a Ferrari dealership. The model, coincidentally named Candy, briefly dated Robinson afterwards.
Alberto Vargas cranked out 60 airbrushed paintings a year for Esquire magazine for only $75 bucks a week salary.
“Trick or Treat” appeared in Playboy in 1971. This Vargas original painting sold for $71,000 at auction.