This dramatically large and impressive oil on canvas painting by the famed American illustrator, James Montgomery Flagg, attests to the fraternity and friendship that existed between peers during the Golden Age of Illustration. This was done as a satirical piece of fine art, perhaps for the Dutch Treat Club, and shows his close friend and fellow illustrator Ham Fisher as a lusty pirate at a table sketching, surrounded by three nude wenches. Fisher, a prolific comic artist, is best known today for the creation of his Joe Palooka strip. This is a commanding and important example of Flagg’s work. The illustration was reproduced on page 29 in the 1974 book James Montgomery Flagg, by Susan Myers, Watson-Guptill Publications; a copy is included in the sale. It has been relined and displays very well in the handsome ornate decorative and fine gold gilt original frame.
Ham Fisher was one of Flagg’s best-loved friends; the humorous and witty transcript below is in the artist’s own words:
“I have known Ham for many years and we’ve had the continuous pleasure insulting each other in private and in public. His mind is like a steel trap… he is keen, so well informed; his wit is sharp and his imaginative humor is boundless –it is incredible that none of all this ever gets into his strip of “comic stuff” called Palooka. It is a series that millions of otherwise intelligent people look forward to with bated breath. The baby-ish excitement all these newspaper “Funnies” evoke is a phenomenon I can’t understand. I vaguely know the names of some of them — Awful Annie, Dysentery and The Pirates — it’s a national disease. Ham’s Palooka is so Palookarative that I do not need to apologize.”
Judy Goffman Fine Art, New York, (label verso).
From the Estate of Charles Martignette.
James Montgomery Flagg was a prolific and wildly successful illustrator, cartoonist, and painter who is most known for his work in political posters including the famous “I Want You” Uncle Sam recruitment poster. Born in New York in 1877, Flagg’s illustrations were being accepted by national magazines by age 12, and at 15, he was a contributing artist for both Life and Judge Magazines. He attended the Art Students League of New York and studied fine art in London as well as Paris until 1900. Upon returning to the United States, he illustrated numerous cartoons, advertisements, magazines, and books including the running comic strip Nervy Nat. Flagg was notoriously confident and often used any means necessary to gain commissions. He enjoyed a bohemian lifestyle filled with parties and friends including John Barrymore, Walter Appleton Clark, and Ham Fisher. Flagg was a founding member of the Dutch Treat Club as well as a member of the Society of Illustrators, the Lotos Club, the Players Club, the Artist and Writers Club.Flagg often wrote for Life and Judge as well as acted in silent films. He later was asked to write films for the Marines and the Red Cross. In 1917, he created his most famous work for the United States Army for WWI recruitment depicting Uncle Sam as well as 45 other patriotic posters. Flagg sidestepped paying a model by using his own face for Uncle Sam. It was later reprinted for use during WWII. Reportedly the highest paid illustrator in the United States, Flagg produced an autobiography in 1946, titled Roses and Buckshot. He was also known for his portraiture for Mark Twain, Ethel Barrymore, and Jack Dempsey. In 1980, Flagg was elected to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. Examples of James Montgomery Flagg’s work can be seen in the National Gallery. However, the real legacy of Flagg can be found in his lasting effect on American illustration and pop culture.