When I think “pin up”, the first thing that comes to my mind is Alberto Vargas’ pictures. His iconic style was my definition of this look for a very long time.
Alberto Vargas was born Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez in 1896 in Peru as the son of Max T. Vargas, a prominent photographer. Prior to World War I he studied art at universities in Zurych and Geneva, and in 1916 he emigrated to the United States. In the early years of his career he drew posters for the Ziegfeld Follies and many Hollywood studios. The breakthrough came in 1933 when he created the poster for “The Sin of Nora Moran”, showing the leading actress, Zita Johann, half-naked in a pose of desperation. The poster is often cited as one of the greatest movie posters ever.
In 1940s, especially during World War II, Vargas became known for being a pin up artist. He painted using watercolours and airbrush. The works he created for Esquire magazine often served as inspirations for nose art of many WWII planes.
Due to parting ways with Esquire and legal disputes over the use of his name, Vargas’ career dimmed in the 50s. It was in the 60s, when he began his cooperation with Playboy, that his popularity boomed. This is how the famous Vargas Girls section originated. One of his Playboy paintings was sold in a 2003 Christies auction for $71,600.
After his wife, Anna Mae’s death in 1974, Vargas stopped creating. Her death was a great shock to him. Anna Mae was not only his model but also his manager. The publication of his autobiography in 1978 renewed the interest in his works which resulted in The Cars album cover.
Alberto Vargas died in 1982, aged 86. Many of his works are in the Spencer Museum of Art in University of Kansas. The annual award given by Airbrush Action Magazine for achievements in airbrushing is called the Vargas Award.