Alberto Vargas was perhaps the most famous pin-up artist of all time. Born in 1896, he was only a little older than Ruth Etting, and came of age at the same time. His distinctive style is rooted in the art deco feel of the early 1920′s – and his career started, just as Ruth’s had, with the Ziegfeld follies. He painted many of the Ziegfeld Girls, including the iconic “Follies Girl” on the left, which graced the cover of the printed program for the very last Follies, in 1931 – the year Ruth Etting headlined.
Wikipedia, in it’s listing on Vargas, lists exactly six “notable women” painted by the artist – and knowing that he painted hundreds of women over his very long and illustrious career, makes me think that the six women mentioned may have been among his favorites? Or perhaps his best known work? And the six women? One of them is Ruth Etting.
I’ve never seen a Vargas’ image of Ruth Etting. His style is definitely distinctive, but it also evolved over the years, and I’m mostly familiar with his later work, so I’m not sure I’d recognize it if I saw it? If you’ve ever seen a girl painted on the nose of a vintage World War II airplane, seen the vintage cartoons and the pin-up art in 1940′s Esquire Magazine, or the pin up art in 1960′s Playboy Magazine, or seen the cover art for the Cars 1979 album, Candy-O, then you’ve seen the work of Vargas. But the “Follies Girl” above is very different in style from everything that came later.
So would I know a Vargas image of Ruth Etting if I saw it? Or is the “Follies Girl” above, really Ruth Etting? The hair is right, so are the lips – if you’re talking about early-Ruth – and maybe the eyes? And she was the starring in the Follies that year… Is it a stylized and idealized portrait of her? Could be… I’m not sure, but hopefully someday I’ll find out!