Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Meet Madame X


In the previous post, I'd left entry number 10 off of my favorites list of Film Fun girls. So say hello to my number one Bolles girl. I can't remember when she hit the top of the charts but she's been there as long as I can remember, and I can state with confidence that there forever she will remain.


So why do I like her so? Let me count the ways. First, the pose is most unusual among Bolles covers. Of his over 500 magazine covers, only a handful were done using this from-the-back perspective. Second, both her expression and hair are unique. No blinding smile, squinting eyes or nimbus of flaming red hair for her. In fact her hair style is the most severe of any Bolles girl yet if you take a close look at the way he painted it, you'll notice it's not at all simple and the treatment of her hairline is actually asymmetric. It takes a lot of confidence and knowledge to do something like that and to know it will end up making her even more fetching. And talk about attractive; don't those huge olive gray eyes draw you into the picture?


So what else? I've written many times about Bolles' knowledge of color and how it works so well on the magazine stand, but look here. There's no color at all in her dress or shoes. Bolles once said that art editors liked any color as long as it was red and I wonder how he ever talked them into going for this scheme. Black is also difficult to print effectively and a lot of pulp magazines only ran covers in three colors, so there was no true black (I'll soon be doing a series on all the other black costumed covers Bolles did). What little accent color there is has been chosen very carefully. Notice how the color of his signature echoes the olive in her eyes and how the pink in her phosphate (or is it a shake?) plays off the color of her skin. This is Bolles minimalism at its best.



Where was I?...reason number four: gaze at those lovely hands. You've heard me go on and on about how Bolles loved drawing hands and used them to intensify compositions and as semiotic elements that serve both as signs and symbols. See how elongated her left hand is and how the mere fingertips of the right hand are exposed. The standard middle fingers touching pose has never been used more effectively. In this cover Bolles also featured what he considered was the most charged aspect of the female figure, and one that you likely would never have guessed...it's the shoulder. I learned this from a single quote buried in a letter Bolles wrote over 70 years ago and after reading it I could never look at Bolles girl quite the same way ever again. In this case the shoulder not only serves as the central compositional element in this painting but as with the hand, is noticeably elongated along with her upper arm. It's also worth pointing out that her choice of drink lends a whole different aspect to the painting compared to something like a flute of champagne or even a beer stein. Bolles completed a couple other covers where the girl was holding a soda shop drink and I have to wonder if it was some sort of inside story or symbolic meaning that is lost to a modern audience or perhaps just one of his more innocent visual puns.


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Finally, some of you may have picked up on my lame intimation of a painting this one beckons to me, namely Sargent's painting of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, better known as Portrait of Madame X. Not that I'm proposing Bolles did this as a riff on Sargent but he knew his art and was certainly well aware of this painting's history and its unanticipated aftermath. The public reaction to its debut in Paris was so notorious that Gauteau was forced to withdraw from high society and Sargent gave up his goal of becoming a full-time portraitist. Bolles also suffered from his choice of subject. The late Reid Austin, who served as Alberto Vargas' personal assistant at Playboy and who wrote the definitive biographies of both Vargas and Petty, speculated that Bolles' opportunities in the field of illustration became limited because of his notoriety as the cover artist for Film Fun. We may admire the beauty and attractiveness of today's subject and his other Film Fun girls, but in their day they often provoked indignation from polite society. And so Bolles may well have paid a personal price for our enjoyment.

12 comments:

Li-An said...

A beautiful cover I did not know. She is very "vamp".

duriandave said...

A fabulous pin-up! And thanks for your commentary. You do an excellent job -- as always -- of explicating the artistry of Bolles' work.

Gary Underwood said...

Jack, Your fun gal looks very much the femme fatale. I noticed that she reappears on the AUGUST issue of BREEZY, 1938, although with different colored eyes.

Jack R said...

Hi Gary,
Glad you like her. The Breezy is actually a different painting, or perhaps a revised (hate to even think of that) version.

darwination said...

Woof.

Alan Wrobel said...

Nice Jack! One of my favorites, though I'll admit I didn't evaluate it as much as I should have. Here's a true story: On 2 separate occasions over the past year I've shown a group of 50-60 Film Funs to groups of girls (relatives at Christmas, and one time at work) and asked them to pick out their top 3. Both groups had this issue in their top3 picks!

Jack R said...

Really?! That's interesting. It's neat to see which issues people like and why they are attracted to them.

Dominic Bugatto said...

Yummy.

Anonymous said...

Pinup as cover art is really hard to do well. Few artists have drawn really sexy figures that also work as fine art. The 1920s was the best period for stylish illustration in my humble opinion... and Bolles was the best sexy figure artist in the US.

Alan

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Apollo said...

oh my god. that looks just like Leatrice Joy.

Jack R said...

Yes, I see what you mean. Check out the Breezy Stories post from a bit earlier. It looks a lot like the head shot of Leatrice that shows up all over the web, down to the widow's peak.