Identification on verso (typewritten): 30th Annual Exhibition of Illustrators at the Harlow, McDonald Galleries sponsored by the College Art Association. James Montgomery Flagg, making a fifteen minute sketch of Wallace Morgan, President of the Society of Illustrators. Identification on verso left (handwritten): Wallace Morgan, President of the Society of Illustrators. Identification on verso right (handwritten): James Montgomery Flagg.
James Montgomery Flagg's portrait of writer Ring Lardner depicts an enigmatic "professional humorist who sometimes smiled but never laughed." Lardner's fiction was admired for its command of colloquial language and its non-idealized characters. "I try to write about people as real as possible," he once wrote. Lardner's You Know Me, Al (1916), featuring the letters of a fictional rookie ballplayer, established the author's reputation and inspired a comic strip. This drawing appeared in a 1922 advertisement for the strip and was later published in a collection of Flagg's celebrity portraits. Flagg drew Lardner from life, deftly documenting his thin, downturned lips, heavy-lidded "owl eyes," and angular nose and chin. The artist, best known for his Uncle Sam "I Want You" recruiting poster, succeeds in capturing that "mask over his emotions," which disguised but did not diminish Lardner's keen wit.
Famed illustrator James Montgomery Flagg was a fixture of New York's smart set, and he often sketched from life the figures he encountered. In 1914 he published The Well-Knowns, a book of his celebrity portraits, which included this image of illustrator Rose O'Neill. Despite Flagg's acerbic streak, no one could achieve softer, more sensuous effects from charcoal and pencil, and this drawing suggests his strong admiration for O'Neill. Giving a jaunty tilt to her head, he implies independence and brilliance as well as beauty. In 1909 O'Neill had become a phenomenon for her impish little cupids, called "kewpies," whose gestures she based on memories of a baby brother. They evolved into a marketing bonanza that lasted a quarter-century, generating the wildly popular kewpie dolls, as well as china, wallpaper, fabric, knickknacks, and even a Broadway musical.
When James Montgomery Flagg drew his famous World War I "I Want You" recruiting poster, he turned to the mirror for his craggy image of Uncle Sam. Although inspired by the British image of a pointing Lord Kitchener, Flagg's version captured the public's imagination with special effectiveness. Along with the stern features of the self-portrait, the foreshortened hand gesture forged a personal connection with the viewer. A generation later, Flagg translated that familiar image into this presidential campaign piece promoting Franklin D. Roosevelt's unprecedented fourth term. The poster coyly avoids asking for votes, suggesting instead that America's duty was to convince the incumbent to run in order to "finish the job." The poster was issued by the Independent Voters Committee of the Arts and Sciences for Roosevelt, founded in 1944 to promote a fourth term, with the expectation that the president could deliver both victory and a progressive peace settlement.
On July 4, 1919, challenger Jack Dempsey met reigning champ Jess Willard in an eagerly awaited bout for the heavyweight championship of the world. Having demolished a series of opponents to earn a shot at the crown, Dempsey was a decided underdog in the matchup with Willard, who was five inches taller and fifty-eight pounds heavier than his opponent and considered unbeatable. Yet when the two boxers met before a capacity crowd, the contest was brief and brutal. In the opening round, Dempsey (in white trunks) unleashed a torrent of punishing blows that felled Willard seven times. By the end of round three, Willard was finished, and Dempsey was the new champion. He defended his title until 1926, when he lost to Gene Tunney.
More than twenty years after upsetting Willard, Dempsey commissioned James Montgomery Flagg to commemorate the historic heavyweight contest. Basing his composition on photographs taken during the fight, Flagg produced this mammoth painting in which the crouching Dempsey bobs and weaves his way to victory. Flagg also pictured a number of celebrities at ringside, including satirist Damon Runyon and cartoonist Rube Goldberg. On November 14, 1944, the painting was unveiled at Jack Dempsey's Broadway bar and restaurant, where it occupied a place of honor until the popular watering hole closed in 1974. Notably absent at the unveiling was Jess Willard, who wired Dempsey, saying, "Sorry I can't be there. But I saw enough of you 25 years ago to last me a lifetime."