Alberto Vargas (9 February 1896 – 30 December 1982) was a noted Peruvian painter of pin-up
girls. He is often considered one of the most famous of the pin-up artists. Numerous Vargas
Born in Arequipa, Peru, Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez moved to the United States in 1916
after studying art in Europe prior to World War I. He was the son of noted Peruvian
photographer Max T. Vargas. His early career included work as an artist for the Ziegfeld Follies
and for many Hollywood studios. Vargas' most famous piece of film work was that for the 1933
film The Sin of Nora Moran, which shows a near-naked Zita Johann in a pose of desperation.
The poster is frequently named one of the greatest movie posters ever made. He became famous
in the 1940s as the creator of iconic World War II era pin-ups for Esquire magazine known
as "Vargas Girls." The nose art of many World War II aircraft was adapted from these
In 2004, Hugh Hefner, the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Playboy, who had previously worked
for Esquire, wrote that "The US Post Office attempted to put Esquire out of business in the 1940s
by taking away its second-class mailing permit. The Feds objected, most especially, to the
cartoons and the pin-up art of Alberto Vargas. Esquire prevailed in the case that went to the
Supreme Court, but the magazine dropped the cartoons just to be on the safe side". A legal
dispute with Esquire over the use of the name "Varga" resulted in a judgement against Vargas
and he struggled financially until the 1960s when Playboy magazine began to use his work
as "Vargas Girls."
His career flourished and he had major exhibitions of his work all over the world. The death of
his wife Anna Mae in 1974 left him devastated and he stopped painting. Not only was Anna Mae
his wife, but she was his model and his business manager. The publication of his autobiography
in 1978 renewed interest in his work and brought him partially out of his self-imposed retirement
to do a few works, such as album covers for Bernadette Peters and The Cars. He died of a stroke
on 30 December 1982, at the age of 86.
Many of Vargas' works from his period with Esquire are now held by the Spencer Museum of Art
at the University of Kansas, which was given those works in 1980 along with a large body of
other art from the magazine.
At the December 2003 Christies auction of Playboy archives, the 1967 Vargas painting "Trick
or Treat" sold for $71,600.
His work was typically a combination of watercolor and airbrush. His mastery of the airbrush
is acknowledged by the fact that the highest achievement in the community of airbrush artistry
is the Vargas Award, awarded annually by Airbrush Action Magazine. Despite always using
figure models, his images would often portray elegantly dressed, semi-nude to nude women
of idealized proportions. Vargas' artistic trait would be slender fingers and toes, with nails
often painted red.
Vargas is widely regarded as one of the finest artists in his genre. He also served as a judge for
the Miss Universe beauty contest from 1956 to 1958.