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Very First Vargas Girl up for Grabs at Heritage Auction Galleries

From Press Release

A preliminary drawing from the hand of Alberto Vargas, for what would become the very first Vargas Girl in the December 1940 issue of Esquire Magazine, will be one of the highlights of the July 15 Signature® Illustration Art Auction at Heritage Auction Galleries. This is the first auction to feature major Illustration Art highlights from The Estate of Charles Martignette, the most important collection of illustration art to ever come to public auction. The drawing is estimated to bring between $20,000-$30,000.

“This particular image is not the one that ultimately appeared in the December 1940 issue of Esquire, but it is her very first incarnation,” said Ed Jaster, Director of Illustration Art at Heritage. “From this single drawing Alberto Vargas would become one of the greatest and most famous illustrators of the 20th century. It is extremely finished and exactly rendered, and is as detailed as many of his final artworks, indicating the importance he placed on it.”

In the late 1930s, it was George Petty – his Petty Girls – that dominated the Esquire gatefolds. These popular drawings were the main graphic draw for readers of the time, but that readership – much to the frustration of Esquire’s publisher – was mostly static. The magazine soon devised a double gatefold to showcase Petty’s buxom babes, and to boost Esquire’s lethargic circulation numbers.

Petty wanted more money, sat out the whole of 1940, and the magazine began the thorny task of finding a replacement for its most popular illustrator. The search proved fruitless for the first half of the year, but on a warm June day their prayers were answered: 44-year-old Alberto Vargas, looking for work, walked into Esquire’s Manhattan headquarters and asked if they might be interested in his services. The rest is history.

“Amid much hoopla,” wrote Reid Stewart Austin on page 12 of Varga The Esquire Years A Catalog Raisonne (published in 1987 by St. James Press), “the first Varga Girl appeared in the October 1940 issue: the gatefold had been introduced to the image that would make it famous.” Reclining Nude, Preliminary Drawing for the Very First Vargas Girl, a mixed media and parchment on board drawing, was flopped and turned upright before it was published as the October gatefold, at a time when the magazine’s circulation was rising towards 650,000. A year later, with Vargas anchoring the prime slots with his titillating Vargas Girls, that number was 775,000, certainly bolstered by Vargas’ considerable talent.

“This drawing is pure vintage Vargas,” said Jaster, “and vintage illustration art. It’s the beginning of the very peak of his career, and a world class study of the female form equal to that of any genre, not just Illustration.”

The rest of The Estate of Charles Martignette includes names like: Gil Elvgren, Mel Ramos, Normal Rockwell, Howard Pyle, Jessie Willcox Smith, Frank Schoonover, Frank Stick, Haddon Sundblom, James Montgomery Flagg, Mead Schaeffer, Saul Tepper, Tom Lovell, Coles Phillips, Amos Sewell, W.H.D. Koerner, Rolf Armstrong, Earl Moran, Enoch Bolles, Norman Saunders, H.J. Ward, George Rozen, Walter Baumhofer, Earl Bergey, Rudolph Belarski and James Avati, among so many others.

Heritage’s Signature Illustration Art Auction will be held July 15, 2009, at the company’s Slocum Street Annex in the Downtown Dallas Design District.

First Vargas Calendar Girl, 1940

First Vargas Calendar Girl, 1940

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