Alberto Vargas: Greatest Pin-Up Artist Ever

February 9 is the birthday of the great Peruvian-American pin-up artist Alberto Vargas (Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez, 1896-1982).  Vargas learned airbrushing techniques at the studio of his father, a noted photographer. In Europe prior to the First World War, Vargas was introduced to the work of Austrian illustrator Raphael Kirchner, and this set him on the path to drawing beautiful females.

Vargas first gained attention during the Jazz Age, depicting Ziegfeld Girls. His 1920 image of Olive Thomas became one of his best known and most enduring:

His one of Nita Naldi embracing a a satyr (1923) is not far behind:

The one with Bessie Love and the Pierrot puppet is from 1919:

This is Anna Mae Clift, who danced in the Greenwich Village Follies of 1919, 1920, and 1921. She was to become Mrs. Vargas.

They weren’t all sexpots but they were all glamorous. He captured Marilyn Miller in 1928:

This one from 1924, believe it or not, is Billie Burke:

He depicted just Ruth Etting’s face for this radio magazine and improved upon nature, at that:

He also did posters for Hollywood movies. His 1930 poster for The Sin of Nora Moran, with Zita Johann at its center, is among his most famous.

This image of Paulette Godard was used for the 1947 film Suddenly It’s Spring

During World War II, Vargas’s images were popular to reproduce on the noses and sides of aircraft. He also drew sexy pictures for Esquire in the 1940s: 180 of them between 1940 and 1946. They were known as “Varga Girls”.

Irish McCalla, best known for playing the starring role in the tv show Sheena, Queen of the Jungle (1955-56) sat for this famous painting in the 1950s:

Starting in 1959, Playboy began to employ him as well. He created 152 illustrations for the magazine, known as “Vargas Girls”.

His technique seemed suited to capture the style of any era. In 1979, he designed the cover for The Cars’ Candy-O album, without a doubt the first place I ever saw his work:

And he did a couple of album covers for Bernadette Peters in the early ’80s.

In 1974, his beloved wife, muse, and former model Anna Mae (see above) passed away and that took a lot of the wind out of his sails. But Vargas was still active as an artist when he passed away in 1982 at the age of 86. Is it any wonder. Talk about a guy who had a reason to get out of bed in the morning!

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