Saturday, August 04, 2007


James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) drew the same way that he lived: brash and arrogant.

Flagg's confidence was understandable. He worked at a time when illustrators were national celebrities. His famous poster, Uncle Sam Wants You, made him a household name. The press sought him out for his strong opinions. He consorted with hollywood stars, judged beauty contests, seduced young and impressionable models, frolicked at bohemian parties, and traveled back and forth to Europe with the beautiful people.

I like his work a lot. My biggest complaint is that Flagg rarely let a single well-considered line suffice where five additional lines might fit:

In this way, his style reflected his personality: never waste a minute reconsidering your initial line-- just keep underscoring it again and again.

Flagg led a privileged life and had little understanding or sympathy for those who did not. He was a member of exclusive men's clubs from whose barricades he merrily indulged his sexist and racist views. His invitation to the annual minstrel show at the elite Lotos club in New York was a beautiful painting of an odious subject:

No fan of government welfare programs, here is Flagg's sketch of the government after sodomizing the people.

Life was mighty fine for Flagg. But like many people who happened to be born at the right time, it never occurred to him that luck might have played a role in his success, or that the conditions that catapaulted him to fame might someday change. Flagg began his career when technical improvements in the printing process and the rise of popular magazines created a huge new market for his work. But his pictures that once commanded the public's attention were eventually eclipsed by Hollywood pictures that moved and talked. Flagg found himself on the wrong side of history. He did not respond well to public neglect, and died a sour and bilious old man. But his terrific drawings from his peak period stand alone and untarnished.


Blogger Howard Wright said...

He did have quite an amazing technique with a pen. Thanks for reminding us of him.

8/06/2007 10:09 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Thanks for highlighting this illustrator and for giving your perspective on his motives and techniques. I learn so much from your site and enjoy being introduced to artists like Flagg.

8/06/2007 11:05 AM  
Anonymous Sergio said...

weeh! what a great artist, you find a great artist all days man, great job!! cheers!!

8/06/2007 1:39 PM  
Blogger Dylan said...

Seriously impressive penmanship. I really admire these types of artist, who can get away with quite loose and at times scratchy penwork because the underlying drawing and their draftsmanship is so solid. It really adds life to the artwork.

8/06/2007 2:45 PM  
Blogger promoteyourblogforfree said...

nice blog

8/07/2007 11:34 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Howard, Stephen, Sergio, Dylan and Promote-- glad you like these images. Flagg was really a virtuoso at this stuff, as were CD Gibson, JC Coll and Orson Lowell. This kind of drawing is almost a lost art today, but when you look at the pen work up close you can still hear it sing.

8/07/2007 5:25 PM  
Blogger marathiartist said...

its amazing

8/15/2007 3:19 AM  
Blogger leif said...

I had a chance to stand in fron of a Flagg original at a client's office and his work is all the more impressive when you can see it a full size... the piece was massive! Each sweeping pen stroke was clearly done with the motion of the entire arm, making a series of foot-long marks in many cases. I had always assumed he worked with a pen at a "normal" tabletop size - but no.

That kind of confidence was truly breathtaking to behold.

8/16/2007 11:30 AM  
Blogger Gaz said...

Was that sketch of the govt. sodomising the public ever published in a periodical?

It's hard to imagine that it saw the light of day, even more so within the current state of control.

8/18/2007 2:55 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Gaz, that picture was published in one of the Dutch Treat Club annuals-- a privately printed book handed out to members of the exclusive Dutch Treat Club at a show they put on every year. Some of the shows became pretty bawdy.

8/19/2007 3:03 AM  
Blogger the !nker said...

"Never Waste A Minute Reconsidering Your Initial Line - Just Keep Underscoring It Again and Again."

Is a great quote to use to describe his style and life.

I'm gonna use it.

9/04/2007 8:09 PM  
Blogger panting ants said...

I stumbled upon this blog, and this Flagg posting.

I grew up staring at two large original Flagg paintings, as they were portraits of my Grandmother and Grandfather painted when they were in their late 30's. Seeing my interest in the works, her comment was that " ...he (Flagg) was a lush... I never had a chest like that! He wanted to flatter me so i would forget about his owed back rent! Someday you can have these paintings"

In fact, Flagg traded the two portraits for a year's rent in the flat he occupied near Tremont Street in Boston.

I have always marvelled at the colors in his fleshtones, the strokes that made up the lines of the features. I was about 9 when i decided to become an artist, in part begcause of these paintings. I was finally given the paintings when my grandmother died, and they have hung in my gallery ever since, attracting comments from all artists who see them. Though i tried, I sucked at painting, so took up drawing and photography, which are now my career. Someday, when social security runs thin, I may have to sell these Flaggs, but for now... anyone who wants to see them should arrange to visit me. They are wonderful!

9/05/2007 1:22 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Inker, be my guest. I'm glad to hear that people are still talking about Flagg.

Panting, that's a great story, and totally consistent with what we know about Flagg's character. I would love to see your two paintings if you have pictures of them.

9/06/2007 1:45 PM  
Blogger WLM Artist said...

Wow, thanks for this! I love his work. What a draftsman!

9/09/2007 10:56 PM  
Blogger Kenneth said...

Would anyone know if James Montgomery Flagg painted Phil Hill the race car driver ? Bruce C. Adamson email me at thank you!

6/12/2008 7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mother-in-law has a Flagg original of two women walking down a street, one with a grocery bag in one had, a letter in another. She it talking with the other woman whose hand is near her mouth as if to say "No, I don't believe it." I'd love to know more about it. My mother-in-law remembers it from her early childhood and everyone always tried to figure out what the two women were talking about. The drawing is wonderful!

7/28/2008 3:34 PM  
Blogger WendiM said...

I am looking for some info and a painting I have, it's a JMF 11x 15 watercolor named "The Wallnuts"
Any help out there?

10/24/2008 2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

have you ever seen a water color by Flagg of a young Bette Davis dated 1902? i've looked on the internet and haven't found it anywhere. thanks!

12/21/2008 2:06 PM  
OpenID greenmossway said...

Haha.. sour and bilious old man. I've been learning about him, and they seemed to have left this part out.

4/01/2009 2:44 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

i wonder if you've seen the artist John Watkiss's work ?
he did a comic called 'Ring of Roses' in pen and ink that is very similar to Flagg's style.

a brilliant draftsman, he also has a tendency to over-render.

5/18/2009 9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the value for chief pontiac pencil sketch done by jm flagg in 1903?
We are wanting to sell it.

3/26/2013 9:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


4/02/2013 8:19 PM  

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