Tuesday, May 14, 2019


Over the years countless illustrators have been tasked with making countless illustrations of a woman sitting in a chair.

For example, the following pictures are all from a 1932 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.  

Each is a conventional, respectable depiction of the human form sitting. Each is by a competent artist searching for a fresh approach.  Yet, there is a sameness to these drawings.

But there was one illustrator in the magazine whose approach stood out from the rest.  John La Gatta  received the same old assignment: draw a seated woman.  But rather than follow the standard conventions for pictures of sitting women, he pushed for something more:  

La Gatta's version of a woman sitting down. She seems to have anfractuous vertebrae and her arms stretch outward like welcoming tendrils.
For other assignments La Gatta would return again and again to the subject of women seated on (or draped sensually over) chairs.  Each new illustration was imaginative, yet truthful:

His pictures remind us of Jane Heap's sly and happy observation:  "Girls lean back everywhere, showing lace and silk stockings...."

The point is not that La Gatta invented a gimmick of using supine postures for women.  The point is that he brought creativity and flexibility to his assignments.   He did not take for granted that seated figures are always perpendicular to the ground.  He did not rest with the predictable rules of anatomy.

And later when it came time for him to draw a woman with perfect posture,  La Gatta's powers of observation provided other ways to make his figures distinctive.  Note here how he exaggerates and plays up her straight bearing, rather than her slouch:


La Gatta became hugely successful in the 1920s and 30s by continuing to look hard at his subject matter after his competitors had stopped looking.  He further supplemented his images with his personal attitudes toward glamour and sensuality.  Together they gave his pictures "that certain something."                                                                                                                                                                   


chris bennett said...

Wonderful post David.
One feels that even if he were tasked with depicting an old crone sat upon a stool knitting in front of the fire he would have invested her pose with your 'certain something'.
I believe that 'certain something' lies deep in the musicality of his forms, and this is what drives the realisation of his figures' page-flexing attitudes.

Li-An said...

So much LaGatta I don’t know. Thanks a lot.

Paul Sullivan said...

Great Post! Your observations and comments are excellent.

Untitled said...

Hi David,
Great posts!
When I saw the title of this post the image that came to mind was an illustration by Eduard Thony in Simplicissimus, I was fortunate enough to see a collection of illustrations at the Hillsborough public library.
I could only find a link to a beach towel that has stolen that image and is selling it on various merchandise.

It would be awesome if you could post some images by him and tell us a little more about him and his work. I think he lived between 1870- 1950. Any books on him currently available also would be good to know to buy.

Thank you. You have a very good blog!

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett-- I agree, there is certainly "musicality" in his forms. We recognize it when we see it but it's tough to explain other than by words such as "musicality."

Li-An-- So much La Gatta that I haven't described here. He lead an incredible life. I highly recommend Jill Bossert's biography of La Gatta.

Paul Sullivan-- Many thanks, I appreciate it.

Amitabh-- Thanks for sending the image from Simplicissimus. I see exactly what you mean-- it's creative in the same way. I like Eduard Thony's work very much, and have a collection of his tearsheets. Perhaps I can display them in a post.

comicstripfan said...

"...there was one illustrator in the magazine whose approach stood out from the rest. John La Gatta received the same old assignment: draw a seated woman."

Since John La Gatta is known to have studied under Kenneth Hayes Miller, is it too recondite to detect any kind of influence on La Gatta’s art in Miller’s pencil on paper “Seated Woman” (n.d.)?

David Apatoff said...

comicstripfan-- I seem to find a lot of images of seated women by Miller, some looking conventional and others not so much. Can you send us to the particular image you mean?

comicstripfan said...

It can be found online at the Simthsonian (SAAM) at: https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/seated-woman-17437 -interesting that it is a not uncommon subject, and it would also be interesting to see Miller’s other (probably more unconventional) takes.

kev ferrara said...

I think it is a testament to LaGatta's immense poetic talent that his work is so beautiful, elegant and truthful that it easily defeats the cigarette propaganda it is pitted against/with.