This remarkable, large, and colorful pastel by Billy Devorss was created for Brown & Bigelow’s 1941 calendar line and was published under the title Pretty Smooth. Unlike most of the pin-up artists working during the Golden Age of Illustration, Devorss never signed an exclusive contract with any of the calendar companies, and instead enjoyed incredible popularity as an in-demand freelancer. Devorss, originally from Saint Joseph, Missouri, maintained a New York City studio in the Beaux Arts building in midtown during the 1930s – 40s, and many of his pin-up images seem to have been inspired by the city’s art deco design and the fashionable big city sophisticates he encountered while out enjoying Manhattan’s bustling nightlife. Pretty Smooth is easily the finest Devorss pin-up pastel to come on the market. The intricate detailing, electric coloring, and model’s slinky and sexy allure are unsurpassed in the genre. It is interesting to note that on the back of the illustration board in the artist’s hand are a number of alternate proposed titles: “All There”,”A Natural”, “What An Entrance”, “A Model Figure”, and, of course, “Lady In Red”. Pastel remains in a pristine state of original conservation and is handsomely framed and properly lined under glass. Our gallery previously sold this pastel in 2015. It is among the finest examples of American pin-up art we have seen.
Devorss began his career shortly after receiving formal instruction at Kansas City Art Institute, graduating in 1934. Quickly getting the attention of Brown & Bigelow, the artist moved to New York City with his wife Glenna and began traveling in the smart set. Shrewdly, Devorss signed with the American Artists Agency upon moving to NY, and through them was able to contract to work for all the calendar companies, a move which enabled his high-style quality of life even as the country struggled through the 1930s. Working steadily from 1934 until the mid-1950s, Devorss made a name for himself as an heir and competitor to Rolf Armstrong, uniquely in touch with the cosmopolitan attitude of the city.
Known particularly for his lavishly fashionable creations, bold use of color, his femme-fatale pin-ups represent the ideal up to the minute art deco woman. In 1951, the artist and his wife returned to St. Joseph, where he enjoyed a life of leisure until his death in 1985.