Millions of his fans probably never saw his work in Playboy magazine. His prolific output in a variety of print media makes sitings of the work of Alberto Vargas an everyday occurrence — almost thirty years after his death. Now, in addition to print media, you can see his work on your iPad.
February 9, 2011, will be the 115th anniversary of the birth of the Peruvian artist whose work has filled our eyes and ignited our imaginations since his creation of what many hail as the most famous movie poster of all time. The movie was The Sin of Nora Moran and his poster featured a scantily clad Zita Johann. During the war years, Alberto did work for Esquire magazine and his “Vargas Girls” became the inspiration for much of the nose art on U.S. military aircraft, including the “Memphis Belle.”
His air brushed watercolor images graced the pages of several magazines, movie posters for some of the biggest studios (MGM and Paramount) and a host of products (Old Gold Cigarettes). While in Hollywood he painted such notables as Betty Grable, Jane Russel, Ann Sheridan, Ava Gardner, Linda Darnell, Marlene Dietrich, Loretta Young and Marilyn Monroe. [He finished the twelve “Legacy Nudes” in the mid fifties.] But, he reached his largest audience and achieved the most fame for his work with Playboy in the 1960’s and 70’s.
“Vargas Girls” were typically elegantly dressed, semi-nude to nude and displayed idealized proportions. They were beautiful, pretty, and seductive. Vargas' trademark characteristics would be slender fingers and toes, with nails often painted red. He published an autobiography in 1978 and his images are available in galleries and bound collections worldwide. In 2003, Christies conducted an auction of selected works from the Playboy archives. Vargas’ “Trick or Treat” sold for $71,600, which was a record at that time for a Vargas. Pinup and Heroines website considers Vargas to be “ the most famous and representative pin-up artist of illustration history.” He died of a stroke in 1982 at the age of 86.