Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Originals I'd like to see

As you know from previous posts, the series of auctions of the Martignette collection of illustration art have put a number of Bolles originals back into circulation, unfortunately for collectors at record prices. But one positive side effect is that this enthusiasm for Bolles has also other brought other originals long held in private collections into the market, several of which were thought to be lost. The example above first showed up at a Heritage auction several years ago and is back at auction again. I had found this sketch of the image in a 1930s art catalog but knew nothing about this painting until it showed at Heritage. I'm almost positive it was never published. Speaking of Heritage, check out whose art they chose for the catalog cover to feature their upcoming auction.

So all this raises the question which burns (perennially!) in my mind: what other Bolles paintings are there to be found? It's tempting to hope there are a lot, Bolles produced over 500 magazine covers. The harsh reality is that it's unlikely that many more are around. With rare exception the work by created by commercial illustrators became the property of the publisher and there are many sad stories about how paintings were neglected or thrown out with the trash. Very few artists kept their original art and fewer yet retained the rights to it. Among the more notable exceptions was George Petty, who not only held on to all his originals for Esquire but also retained the rights to the images, which he aggressively remarketed. Like the majority of commercial illustrators Bolles signed away the rights to his work though he did manage to hold onto a fair number of his paintings including comprehensive sketches and proofs, but over the years they have been lost, given away or worse, stolen.

So if forced to choose, which 10 Film Fun paintings would I most wish were still around? I've been grappling with this and to be honest, I've gone back and forth on several and my final (for now) list includes works from three categories. These are the iconic images that every Bolles fan would die for, other works from what could be called the high-period of Bolles art running from 1932 to 1939, and his early work from the 1920s. The first group simply must include the Bolles motorcycle girl from 1934, and his deco infused masterpiece from 1935. Both of these images are all over the web and each has been reworked by Greg Theakston in the guise of Bettie Page. If for no other reason you'd have to choose these because they would be the most valuable to ever hit the commercial market.

Another painting to include in this group would be the Martini girl from 1941. She's been printed on book covers, drafted into beer ads, ironed on t-shirts and otherwise had a very busy second career. The original painting survived at least for a while, and a long while back I posted a photo of it in the Film Fun home office. In the second category of great but not iconic examples it would be an punishable offense to leave our favorite cowgirl out to pasture. I've written several entries over the months on my efforts to corral this painting from 1934. Though there have been several false sightings I am convinced she is out there somewhere waiting to be rounded up. And just to make things interesting below is a photo of her in the original, circa 1940. She's now the called the Whoopee girl and serves official mascot of the Pioneer Days rodeo held annually in Odgen, Utah.

Our cowgirl is joined by her sister from south of the border. This lovely senorita debuted in 1934 and soon appeared in blotters, calendars and even on a box of chocolates. Sadly in each case efforts were made to remove Enoch's signature. Clearly the inspiration for this cover was either a model or a photo, she has none of the more mannered aspects that Bolles sometimes is criticized for. The composition is a variant of the Bolles "L" and in my mind is the best example of the pose Bolles ever did. It's got everything, a fabulous composition, the snappy costume and hat, drapery and of course, great footwear.

Another must have would be the Can-Can girl from 1936. I just love the pose and all that crinoline, or whatever it should be properly called. As good as Bolles is at legs he really outdid himself with this painting. The pose is supposed to be based on a model and I have a photograph of her, but won't bother posting it. This is one of those covers where the model was merely a setup for Bolles' imagination.

And now we turn to an earlier era of Film Fun covers which highlight how Bolles' work stands in contrast from the work of other pinup artists because it so clearly presents both a personal and cultural timeline. As you move through the decades you can see the evolution of his technique (like it or not) and the emerging style of the era, which Bolles so clearly captured both in fashion and figure. By contrast, examine a Petty from the 1950s and you may notice that she has changed little from examples produced in the late 30's. He relies on the same technique, the poses are familiar and even the outfit could have been borrowed from one of his Esquire girls. This is not a criticism; Petty created a girl who was wildly popular and he would have been foolish to mess with success. The same holds when comparing Vargas' work between Esquire and Playboy though it must be said that Playboy allowed him far more latitude (maybe longitude describes it better!) in how he posed and dressed his girls though not all of it was at his discretion (he long resisted pressure for poses that revealed pubic hair).

In contrast, not only did Bolles painting style change over time, but the physical appearance of his girls did as well. It's ironic that he got out of the of the business at the very moment the term pinup came into use, because one could argue that he had more to do in codifying the genre than any other artist. But I digress, so turning to his work from the 1920s many would place this cover from 1928 at the top of their list. She's the total package. The next cover, from 1929 is shows that Bolles can do both naughty and nice. And today's final entry comes from 1924, one of Bolles best years for Film Fun. It's anything but a typical Bolles cover and I guess you could call this his peeved category, which includes a fair number of other covers. No copper is going to get away with pushing her around.

So that rounds out my wish list, or does it? Actually I'm one short and that cover is not only my top Film Fun, it's my favorite out of every Bolles I've seen. If you'd like to meet her stop back in a few days.


Dominic Bugatto said...

That top image is a stunner!!

Jack R said...

If you go to the Heritage site you can download a gigantic version and relish in the details.

Alan Wrobel said...

Very nice Jack! My list wouldn't be much different. BTW, take a look at ebay lot #370360030455 (and anyone else who's interested) She sure looks like she's been in some Bolles works. Do you know her name?

Anonymous said...

Do you know if this artis ever rendered his young girls in diaphenous panties or even 20s style see through bloomers, with black stockings and garters etc. He seems to go for 20s swim wear, shorts or dresses. I know the censors were a lot stricter in the 20s and 30s... Maybe he did more adventurous art for his own private portfolio... I know I do.


Jack R said...

Not in the 1920s, but his work in the 30s was a lot more adventurous as far as dress, and the lack thereof.