Vargas Girls: From WWII Cheesecake To The Cars' 'Candy-O'

By | April 23, 2019

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Sources: (Pinterest; Wikimedia Commons)

Early in the 20th century, an American visual style was invented by the Peruvian-born artist Alberto Vargas. The "Vargas Girls" he painted, as they were later known, appeared in magazines, advertisements, and calendars, and on posters and airplanes -- and for all he painted, infinitely more were created by others working in Vargas-inspired style. Vargas wasn't the only pin-up artist -- George Petty and Gil Elvgren deserve mention as well -- but the Vargas Girl brand he created has endured as the highest example of the genre. Vargas Girls became a staple of Esquire and later appeared in Playboy on a monthly basis.

Vargas' Early Professional Work

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A 1924 cover for Ziegfeld by Vargas; his Scheherazade, 1921; cover of Theatre Magazine depicting Norma Talmadge, 1920. Sources: (Pinterest, Wikimedia Commons, facebook/AlbertoVargasPinUpArt)

In May 1919, Alberto Vargas was painting in a store window, when a representative from the Ziegfeld Follies discovered him. The next day, Mr. Ziegfeld commissioned Vargas to paint watercolors of the 1919 stars of the Follies for the New Amsterdam Theater’s lobby; he would paint for the Follies for the next 12 years.

Vargas’s father was a photographer, and Vargas was exposed early on to the airbrush, a method that allowed for improvements to photographs. During a trip to Switzerland, he stopped in Paris, where he found his great inspiration: Raphael Kirchner, whose technique influenced Vargas’s development as an artist.