Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Out of the Ether

Be you a Bolles specialist or an omnivore of classic illustration art, you've likely feasted your eyes on the series of auctions of original illustration art at Heritage auctions over the past year from the Charles Martignette estate. For me its been both fabulous and frustrating because prices have skyrocketed, especially in the case of our man Bolles. The upside--even if you've been priced out of the market--is that all this interest in Bolles has brought some long lost treasures out of the closet, most of which have been consignments from other collectors.
The upcoming auction includes the 1931 Film Fun cover displayed here, and it's the only original I'm aware of from that year that survives. Yet as excited as I am to see the painting it is also a serious source of frustration. Every time a lost Bolles shows up on the market I can't help but wonder about its backstory; who owned it and what were the circumstances by which it was acquired? Each original I've managed to have photographed has a story behind it. Unfortunately many are scant on details, though one of the other Bolles for sale in the upcoming auction has a sticker on the stretcher that says "gift of Mr. and Mrs. Irwin Winsten, 1950", not that that means anything to me.
I've also posted the one other existing Film Fun painting of Bolles with a circus theme that I know about. The painting was done in 1935 and has its own story. It was once owned by, of all people, the girly artist Bill Ward. In a letter written to a friend he described buying the painting from an "old guy" at a flea market, recognizing it as a Bolles but not finding the signature until much later (it was tiny). He didn't say anything about the price he paid but I think it may have been around $150! Later in the letter Ward notes that Bolles could be considered the true pioneer of pinup, stating: "this guy precedes them all, before Petty, Vargas and the rest." And then he goes on to say that his very first published pinup, done at the age of 16 (!) appeared in of all magazines, an issue of Film Fun and I believe this its the final issue.

You may recall that a while back I posted a graphic that displayed surviving Film Fun paintings and am happy I'll have to update it. In fact it wouldn't bother me if I had to do this again and again. So, let's consider this: What if there were only 10 more Film Fun paintings to be found? If you could choose, which ones would they be? My own top ten list will be showing up in a post shortly. So what are your favorites?

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Bolles? I Certainly Soap So!

It may have been eight years ago when I received a most significant package from Theresa, Enoch's daughter. It was full of old ads that she had loaned to me, including several examples of what were once called car cards. These were advertising posters, printed on cardboard in standard dimensions that could be slotted one after another along the strip of space lying directly above the windows of trolley cars. From about 1900 until the 1950s they were ubiquitous not only in trolleys but also buses and subways. Enoch worked for the biggest advertising companies of the day and much of his work centered on the invariant format of car cards, which were sometimes scaled up to what in the trade was called 24 sheet ads, otherwise known as billboards.

Theresa was pretty certain that Enoch had done the lettering on this ad, and I concurred. It has some of his flourishes, most evident the tale preceding the letter P. But she was less sure about the charming image of the baby, and I also was reluctant to decide one way or another. Well at long last I finally managed to pick up my own copy of the card and have been poring over it since.

So is it a Bolles or not? The answer is I still don't know. First, it was done in either chalk or pastel. Bolles did the vast majority of his work in oil, though he did do one notable cover portrait in pastel, and I've seen examples of his work in a variety of other media. Second, the image has a gauzy look to it which is not at all like Bolles. As charming as the little fellow is, the technique is very different from the flat, precise application of color typical to Bolles. Yet, there is something about the treatment of the hair that harkens to Bolles, and the post with chin resting on shoulder is very typical to him. I've also seen a couple of other Bolles baby ads with more than a passing resemblance. Sorry for thinking out loud but for now all I can say is perhaps.

So let's close with a certainty. Here we have a terrific and very early Bolles from a 1917 issue of Judge. And it's not just a painting of any cute little girl, the subject is Enoch's daughter, Theresa. The story goes that he was sketching her in the kitchen just as you see, when Enoch's wife walks in, aghast at the mess. The only unanswered question, and one that Theresa couldn't answer, was if she had been responsible for the mess, or whether the culprit was Enoch.

Addendum: Just for the heck of it I'm adding one more Bolles baby, this from an ad that appeared in 1926. I think you'll see why I'm thinking our little fella in the Kirkman's ad is a Bolles.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lá Fhéile Pádraig: Saint Patrick's Day

You've had to suffer a passel of silly celebrations on this site, but today we have a real one with a cover to match. There simply was no excuse for me to let Saint Patrick's day pass us by without sharing this fabulous Bolles cover from 1927. Sláinte!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Fruits of Her Labor. It's Johnny Appleseed Day!

I'm back to using Bolles covers to celebrate national or not so national holidays, and here's a fun example from a 1930 issue of Spicy Stories published during a period when Bolles was conducting a lot of fruitful experiments cross pollinating compositions and themes. I'm not quite sure of the intended storyline but I bet you could come up with several convincing scenarios.

Many of Bolles' best covers for Spicy were done during this brief period. Unfortunately it didn't last long. By the end of 1930 Bolles was entering what might be called his bobble head phase, with the product being disconcertingly young looking girls. The most troublesome examples appeared on the covers of Spicy, largely given the content and underground market for the magazine. A couple years later his girls were reproportioned, heads smaller and other parts larger. Theories abound, but perhaps it was simply a change in diet.

P.S., I've felt obliged to add word verification for comments. This is not intended to in any way constrain feedback or comments, which I am always interested in. It's just that this blog has become a target of a lot of spam and junk comments. Sorry for the added step this will require.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Celebrating other blogs

Given the theme of this site, it's only fitting that from time to time we acknowledge the wonderful creations of other illustrators. And what better example to debut this feature than the new blog on female illustrators by the indefatigable Leif Peng of Today's Inspiration. Along with Dan Zimmer, the publisher of Illustration Magazine, nobody has done more in recent years to promote the golden age of illustration, particularly the many unheralded talents who labored in obscurity. Leif is not only a scholar of illustration he is a detective of the first rank. His new site features an entry on the highly regarded but enigmatic illustrator, Lucia Lerner. Not surprisingly, Leif has uncovered new information and insights about Lucia's life and work. I am sure you'll find her story as fascinating as I did.
I personally am grateful for this site because my mother was a professional illustrator; she started out doing interiors for Hallmark cards and later moved on to fashion art, all during an era when employment opportunities for women were constrained to a small number of fields deemed appropriate (her most interesting art job was as the court room artist for the Charley Starkweather trial!). So let's hear it for Leif and the pioneering women of Illustration.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Today is Beer Day...How about a Martini?

Last year on Beer Day (There's more than one date for this celebration, I wonder why?) we shared a frothy mug of ale, courtesy of Enoch and Judge magazine. But there are times when a beer just doesn't suit the mood and our leggy flapper from a 1927 issue of Snappy Stories is dressed for something a bit more sophisticated. So only a martini will do, but none of that bathtub gin.
This cover was one of the last Bolles did for Snappy. I think the magazine tanked out a few months later and it took a year or so before it was rehydrated by Frank Armer, who hired Bolles for some of his other publications, most of which were only sold at smoke shops and taverns. In fact Bolles did another version of this for a 1930 issue of Pep, which was one of Armer's most successful sellers until he got the utterly insane notion of spiking one of the issues with some full frontal nudity in the photo insert. But that's another story and for the details you should read Doug Ellis's Uncovered, which unwinds the serpentine tale of the smooshes and is chock full of exquisite illustrations of rare material, including stacks of Bolles covers.

Speaking of exquisite, I'm sure that many of you recognize the girl in the martini theme from the famous stage production by Dita Von Teese. I have no idea what the inspiration was for her act, though I'd like to think that Bolles had something to do with it. Maybe the original recipe for the martini girl is his too!