Alberto Vargas may be the most famous painter of modern pin-up art. If Vargas isn’t a name that immediately comes to your mind when thinking of photo realistic beauties in bathing suits, sundresses and occasionally in their birthday suit, chances are likely high that you will recognize the maestro’s work.
Vargas was born in Peru in 1896, the son of a photographer. He spent the first 15 years of his life in his homeland before traveling to Europe to study art. It was during this time that the young Vargas came across a French magazine and was captivated by its cover artwork done by Raphael Kirchner. This is said to have been a pivotal moment in Vargas’ life to become an artist wanting to capture the female form.
Vargas began to work for New York’s famous Ziegfeld Follies in the 1920s, painting promotional posters for the upcoming shows. His style was an instant hit, bringing further attention of Ziegfeld’s program and catching even more attention to the plethora of dancing beauties in its’ lineup.
The fetching dancers in Ziegfeld’s ensemble also became models for more of Alberto Vargas’ pin-ups. Perhaps the most famous Vargas pin-up during his foray working for Ziegfeld was a nude portrait of Olive Thomas, a Follies dancer and silent film actress that passed away at the age of 25.
How Much Does Alberto Vargas Artwork Sell For?
How many Vargas paintings are held by collectors and galleries is unknown but a safe estimate would range somewhere between 500 to 800. It’s known that in the middle portion of Vargas’ career that he painted 152 pin-up works for Playboy magazine over a 16 year period. The Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas has just under 150 of Vargas’ watercolors from the years he painted for Esquire magazine (1940-1946.) The total collection of Vargas’ work for Esquire, which was done at a brutal frantic pace of nearly one painting per week, exceeded 180 paintings, so the Spencer collection holds most but not all of Vargas’ work from that period of time.
Prices for original Alberto Vargas pin-up paintings have typically ranged from the low $10,000s to upwards of $60,000. In 2016 one auction house sold a 1948 Vargas pin-up for $13,650. However, there have been a small handful of Vargas works that have commanded $100,000 prices.