The Varga Girl is the most recognized name in pinup. It is an iconic image that propelled the morale of the WWII soldier, and continued on in later years as the eternal pinup girl~ feminine, alluring, all American. Just one look though and you probably wouldn't characterize them as 'girls'. They are women and are reveling in all their glory... and want you to know it.
Vargas' images stand out by their soft watercolor fluidity and almost transparent silhouette; rosey cheeks and luscious smiles. He captured what women do behind closed doors... but more importantly, what men think goes on behind closed doors!! Innocent? Yes. Provocative? Yes. The duality of sinner and saint is what makes the Varga Girl the ultimate pinup and the ultimate girl.
Alberto Vargas was a Peruvian immigrant whose graphic artwork advertised the Ziegfeld Follies as well as countless cosmetic house's latest health and beauty products. It wasn't until his collaboration with Esquire magazine in the summer of 1940 that he became a household name almost as famous as the beauties he captured. He fell in love with the all American girl and marveled at how self assured she was. He made sure to encapsulate this kind of determined quality in his work, a subtle difference from the ever popular but waning Gibson Girl of the previous generation.
George Petty was actually the first pinup artist to be published in Esquire a few years earlier. The publishers grew weary of Petty's diva like success and wanted to replace him with Vargas' impressive artwork. Unfortunately, Vargas was not well versed in business and allowed the publishers to take over his contract. One small detail was requiring Vargas to drop the 's' from his last name. The very first Varga Girl was in the Oct. 1940 issue. The accompanying copy read "Every once in a while a new girl is born, fully grown and partially clothed, like Venus fresh risen from the sea." How enchanting!! Shortly after came the Varga Girl calendar and the rest they say, is history.
The soldiers greatly appreciated the pictorials and ate up their innocent sensuality. During this time there was some drama of the Bettie Page/distributing eroticism vein, but that eventually ended and the First Amendment saved the day. The Varga Girl was found in barracks, the noses of planes, pretty much everywhere in the military. It was now synonymous with WWII Golden Era. Vargas became a hero of sorts to the boys over seas. Little did they know that Vargas' tenure with Esquire was ending badly and through a series of painful lawsuits, lost the right to the term 'Varga '. Vargas did work for other publishers including Playboy, but none could compare with his morale boosting work during the 40's. Even his work of famous movie stars and society dames dimmed next to the anonymous stunners he painted as pinups.
An interesting bit of information I came across was that he was very adept at painting faces, especially the eyes. I read that most of the paintings of Varga Girls that have their backs to the admirer, were done because he was rushed on a deadline and didn't have time to paint the faces!
I think that out of all the pinup artists, Alberto Vargas' work is the most timeless. The languid poses and the classic glamour are absolutely mesmorizing, no? Every single detail is beautiful~ the hair color, the eyelashes, the nails, the shape of the bodies and even the stockings are remarkably vibrant and always inspirational even in this day and age. Vargas set the bar high for us gals, didn't he?!! Please excuse me now, I'm off to tart myself up.
For my dear friend, Lola!