In May of 1919, on the advice of Sam Kingston, general manager for Florence Ziegfeld, Alberto Vargas applied to be the in-house artist for the Ziegfeld Follies. The rest, as they say, was history. At only 24 Vargas had already established himself as a freelance illustrator of beautiful women, with a sophisticated style inspired by Raphael Kirchner, who had previously held the job of “glorifying the American girl” for New York’s premiere impresario. The young artist brought Ziegfeld a number of his fine art nudes and was hired on the spot. Ziegfeld commissioned Vargas to create portraits of specific stars to use as playbill covers and as Follies publicity, and he filled the New Amsterdam theater with large original provocative artworks such as Feline Entr’acte.
Alberto Vargas first began working on this early masterwork in 1915 , when he was 19 years old and living in Europe. His preliminary sketches show a dark haired model with significantly different features than would be seen in the completed artwork. Here he uses his muse and later wife Anna Mae Clift as model, and her mane of red hair falls all around her as she reclines on a tiger skin rug while holding up a black cat. The double entendre of the model lounging nude and playing with her cat would not have been lost on the patrons of Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolics. A whimsical nod to Halloween can be seen in the black and orange color scheme, and it’s quite possible that she was timed to appear at the New Amsterdam in conjunction with that holiday. The work was debuted under the final title Feline Entr’acte, which translates to “A Feline Intermission,” and is a fitting description for this erotic Ziegfeld Follies theatrical artwork.
This epic and large scale work was by all accounts one of the artist’s favorites, remaining in his possession for the majority of his life. The painting appears as a poster sized art print in the 1991 Taschen volume Alberto Vargas Poster Book. She remains in an excellent state of original conservation and is very handsomely framed and matted and ready to hang.