BEAUTY IS SKIN DEEP IN ILLUSTRATION ART
Advertisement; McClelland Barclay; Smiling woman in orange at cocktail bar; $3,190. Photo courtesy of Illustration House
Is beauty really skin deep? If advertising is to be believed, then it is for women.
The modern woman is pictured as a ‘superwoman’ who can whip up a great quiche and balance the checkbook while she manages her husband, kids, full-time job, 24-hour bra, hair, make-up, weight and nails.
Her image is pristine and her legacy is burning the candle at both ends. An ideal image that’s impossible to live up to.
You don’t have to look far in advertising to see it. Illustration art is great study in popular culture role-playing.
Jump back a few decades. During the 1930s depression years, women were portrayed in the home. In the early-1940 war years, they were champions of the assembly line. After the war, they were expected to retreat to the kitchen. Nowadays, women are everywhere and probably dog-tired.
Cultural appetites show up straight away in advertising illustrations. The illustrator, McClelland Barclay, is a good example. Before World War II, Barclay was known for his flair in painting stunningly beautiful women.
His long-limbed, rosy-cheeked, fashionably dressed beauties strolled down streets and lined cocktail bars in 1930s advertising campaigns and magazine covers such as The Saturday Evening Post and Pictorial Review.
When you look at his work, his ability to capture momentary beauty is undeniable. You almost expect the women in his advertisements to speak. They’re that lifelike.
His women are also an “ideal” you could never really hold in your arms. It’s those contrasting qualities that tug at the imagination. It’s the same energy that inspired Titian to do 39 paintings of Madonna and 19 of Venus. Adoration of the female form, the best an artist can muster at a given moment.
In illustration art, art and advertising merge. Granted, they may seem like odd-bedfellows and sometimes the message is disturbing, but, if done well, the presentation is complete.
In that sense, illustration art is truly an art form. And it has been used to sell everything from war bonds and brand new Fords to magazines and pulp fiction. It’s popular culture personified.
What makes illustration art valuable in today’s market? Obviously, the artist is a major factor. Original art work of legendary players in the field like Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, Howard Pyle, Charles Dana Gibson, James Montgomery Flagg, N.C. Wyeth, and yes, Frederic Remington, command much interest on the auction block.
Also, condition, subject matter, historical significance and size play an important part.
On Nov. 9, Illustration House, New York, featured a selection of illustrations picturing women in its Illustration Art auction. Here are some current values.
Women in illustration
Publicity advertisement; McClelland Barclay; striding woman in fashionable green suit; oil on canvas; signed; circa 1930s; 34 inches by 18 inches; $3,190.
Advertisement; McClelland Barclay; smiling woman in orange at cocktail bar; oil on canvas; signed; circa 1935; 34 inches by 18 inches; $3,190.
Advertisement; John Gannam; mother and dozing baby lying on bed; watercolor; signed; 1947; 13 inches by 11 1/2 inches; $3,575.
Calendar illustration; Bill Lane; spaniel tries to steal blanket from dressing beauty; watercolor airbrushed; signed; circa early-1950s; 20 3/4 inches by 17 inches; $3,850.
Advertisement; Joseph G. Chenoweth; couple in kitchen with bankbook; oil on canvas; circa late-1920s; signed; 26 1/2 inches by 23 3/4 inches; $3,850.
Advertisement; Haddon H. Sundblom; woman skier relaxing as she drinks a Coke; oil on canvas; unsigned; circa 1940-41; 29 1/2 inches by 21 1/ 2 inches; $18,700.
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