“I Want You for U.S. Army.”
James Montgomery Flagg was born in Pelham Manor, New York, USA in 1877. Today is the 136th anniversary of his birth.
He knew he wanted to be an artist at a young age. By 12 he sold his first illustration to St. Nicholas Magazine for $10. “By 14 he was a contributing artist for Life magazine, and the following year was on the staff of another magazine, Judge.” [RoGallery.com] Although he attended art school in New York, London and Paris he was dubious as to their benefit. He once said “Art cannot be taught. Artists are born that way…I wasted six years of my young life in art schools… You can’t breed an artist. You can only breed mediocrity.” [spartacus.schoolnet.com.uk] When he returned to the States he married Nellie McCormick, a St. Louis socialite 11 years his senior. The couple moved about the country eventually landing in New York City where Flagg established himself as a magazine illustrator.
He worked with a dozen or so of the top publications in the country and produced an illustration a day (on average).
Flagg was not only a productive illustrator, he was also enormously versatile.. Flagg displayed his powers in opaque and transparent watercolor and oils. He worked in monochrome for halftone reproduction; with a full palette for color reproduction. He was equally skilled in charcoal and pencil. He was even a consummate sculptor. No medium was too difficult for him and except for pastel (which he disliked) he used them all with ease.” [spartacus.schoolnet.com.uk]
Flagg started to draw for Photoplay Magazine in 1903, producing illustrated portraits of movie stars.
When the US entered World War I he joined a group of fellow artist called the Division of Pictorial Publicity which designed patriotic posters. Among the 46 posters Flag created is his famous “I Want You for the US Army”. He posed as Uncle Sam himself (to save the trouble and expense of finding a model.)
He was a fan of Franklin D. Roosevelt and created political posters promoting the New Deal and Roosevelt’s presidential campaigns. When the US entered WWII he revived Uncle Sam and made a series of Red Cross posters.
After the War he mounted an exhibition of his fine art at the Ferargil Gallery in New York City. But by the 1950’s magazines had moved to photography over illustration and he found his skills less in demand.
He was outspoken and he didn’t suffer fools. He had a high opinion of himself and once said “The difference between an artist and an illustrator is that the latter knows how to draw, eats three square meals a day and can pay for them.”
Along with his artwork he also wrote screenplays and acted on both the stage and set.
Flagg died on May 27th , 1960. He was 83 years old.
Click HERE to see a nice selection of his artwork.
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