Pinup Girls for Calendars

Pinup Girls for Calenders

From a past Queen B sale comes this 1946 calendar, printed over 70 years ago as American servicemen (and women) returned home from World War II. Risqué art has been around forever, but the sexy yet wholesome “Pinup Girl” reached the height of popularity during the war when thousands of eager G.I.s bought calendars to stand in for girlfriends they left behind. Pinups were everywhere that men might be without women – locker rooms, barracks, machine shops, even on the noses of Air Force planes. Some of the ‘girls’ were famous actresses or singers, some were models, and some were fantasies invented by the artists. Their impossibly skin-tight clothes were also something of a fantasy as Spandex had not been invented yet.

King of the pinup artists was Vargas, or Varga, as he is called on this calendar. Vargas worked in a combination of watercolors and airbrush. His favorite model was his wife Anna Mae, who was also his business manager. This calendar published by men’s magazine Esquire represents Vargas at his finest but behind the scenes he was teetering on the cusp of a career-crippling fallout with one of his most profitable employers.

Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez was born in Peru in 1896, son of Peruvian photographer Max T. Vargas. As a young man Alberto went to Europe to study art. There he saw a cover for French magazine ‘La Vie Parisienne’ by Austrian artist Raphael Kirchner, Art Nouveau illustrator and creator of some of the earliest sexy girl pinup art. Mr. Vargas was inspired! In 1916 he moved to the U.S. to work for the Ziegfeld Follies in New York and Hollywood movie studios in California, all bursting with sexy girls. Although it is almost 90 years old, his dramatic 1933 pinup-style poster for ‘The Sin of Nora Moran’ is still admired by some as the greatest movie poster of all time.

Following a bitter contract dispute, in 1940 Esquire Magazine hired Vargas to replace illustrator George Petty. His new contract by publisher David Smart had Vargas drop the S from the signature on his artwork, changing it to ‘A. Varga’. It was sadly common then for creatives with ‘ethnic-sounding’ names to be asked to change them to something more neutral so this might not have raised any red flags, but the end result was that Alberto Vargas did not own the Varga signature, Esquire did. In 6 years Vargas produced 180 paintings for them but gradually Esquire dropped his signature from published work and ‘Varga Girls’ morphed into ‘Esquire Girls’, even though Vargas was still painting them.

He took Esquire to court, claiming that pictures made by him were wrongfully published without being accredited to him. Note that he was not suing for money, just for his signature to appear on his art. Such a lawsuit today might have different results but back then Vargas lost and was not asked to fulfill the remainder of his 10-year contract.

For 12 long years he struggled. Finally in 1959 Playboy magazine began publishing his art. During the 16 years he worked for them he produced 152 original works and experienced an impressive comeback, showing in major exhibitions around the world. When his wife Anna Mae died in 1974 he retired, creating only a few select album covers after that.

Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez passed away in 1982. His original paintings still sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars and his command of the airbrush is still so admired that there is a yearly ‘Vargas Award’ given out by Airbrush Action Magazine, and yes, the award is spelled V-A-R-G-A-S with an S (take THAT, Esquire!) Craving a sexy Vargas pinup of your very own? Why not visit QBO…