Monday, July 18, 2011

Invention of a cultural icon: The Vargas Girl

©Hearst Corporation
At San Francisco Art Exchange we are both proud and humbled to be the first art gallery in the world to hold an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Alberto Vargas, one of the most well known and revered American illustrators of the 20th century. Since our first exhibition in 1985, the first world retrospective of the artist’s work, his importance as the creator of some of the most recognizable icons in American art of pre- and post-World War II has become more greatly acknowledged in academia and among connoisseurs.

As the venue for over 95% of the fine art sales of his work globally, San Francisco Art Exchange’s mission has been to maintain and further the historic value and impact his paintings, his “Vargas Girls”, have had on 20th century art and culture.

We began as a gallery in 1983 and over the years have made it our goal to acknowledge and praise popular iconography as artistic expression, visual communication and cultural language. The Vargas Girl became an indelible symbol, first in the United States during World War II when Vargas’ painting were called “Varga Girls”. In the years during the war, every month a new Varga Girl would appear printed on her own page in each issue of Esquire Magazine. The pages were torn out of the magazines and pinned up on barracks walls or folded up and tucked into the inside pocket of a flack jacket. The images that smiled back at their admirers became treasured emblems that were eventually reproduced by hand by devoted airmen, soldiers and sailors on the fuselages of aircraft, on tanks and ships, on pilots’ jackets.

Sheer Elegance
©Hearst Corporation
Whether they were held by GI’s as good luck charms or as company mascots, each Varga Girl became synonymous with home, with camaraderie, with family or an awaiting sweetheart. In the fog of war, in the face of potential sacrifice, at the moments when attacks were countered by attacks, the Varga Girl was also a reminder in between patrols or fire fights that life was much more than about “kill or be killed” instincts. In their own way, they were reminders of one's humanity under inhumane circumstances. They were reminders of hope and the possibility of returning home to better times.

Ironically, these American icons were also valued trophies for German soldiers who collected them as they passed through villages where American soldiers had formerly been. The comparable dreams, hopes and aspirations of enemies were expressed in a common language in the form of Vargas’ smiling, kind and non-judgmental Varga Girls.

First Love
© Hearst Corporation
There are many stories and discussions regularly heard at our gallery from clients, artists, writers, friends and family of Alberto Vargas. Visitors from around the world come to our gallery to see original paintings by Alberto Vargas. They are of all ages, nationalities and cultures, men and women, of all social and financial backgrounds.

We are excited about the incredible opportunity this blog offers us. It allows us to share stories about Alberto, his models, his life and technique, the things he valued and experiences of a career that began before 1920 and carried on until his death in 1982. Having a running dialog with you here is as exciting as it is every day at our gallery and we truly look forward to your comments and questions going forward.

“One day I will paint a picture that can be shown anywhere in the world and, without my signature, people seeing it will say ‘that is a painting by Vargas.’” - Alberto Vargas

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