Thursday, November 03, 2011


Mead Schaeffer

You hardly ever see pictures of men carrying women in their arms these days, but once upon a time such pictures made up 71.32% of all illustrations in women's magazines.

 John Gannam

O.F. Schmidt


Austin Briggs ad for business travel by train: bring your wife along and have a second honeymoon

Readers of Redbook, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan and McCall's all seemed to love these pictures.

R.G. Harris

Ed Vebell
"Beautiful, overprivileged Elizabeth Matthews"
in the strong arms of  escapee Donovan

Then, sometime around the middle of the 20th century, such illustrations became extinct.  Why?

Leonard Starr

Apparently, women realized they could travel faster, and usually in a better direction, by walking on their own two feet.

Of course, there could be other explanations for why these illustrations were so popular with women.  If you accompany a man to the cave of the winds, being carried gives you deniability about assent.  In a subtler era, ambiguity about assent could play a significant role in your relationship with the man, or with your mother.  In the second half of the 20th century, ambiguity would become less important.

Or perhaps these illustrations began to lose their charm as women looked at this same theme in men's magazine illustrations, and realized what was going on in the heads of the lummoxes who were carrying them:

Norman Saunders
Regardless of physical strength, women often ended up doing the heavy lifting anyway.

If you look at the old illustrations of men carrying women, you see that (politics aside) there was  a lot of room for play and psychology as a result of the fact that nature had endowed one sex with the physical strength to lift the other.

But whatever the reason, those nuances are no longer of much interest, so neither are the illustrations.

The end of the demand for such pictures (rather than the invention of television) may be the real reason for the shrinking illustration market.


Unknown said...

With the weight of most people today I can see why these illustrations are no longer in style...

kev ferrara said...


kev ferrara said...

Personally, I think guys are always getting a bad rap.

chris bennett said...

The birds have all migrated to Jack Vettriano land.

And you're right David, it's a much more emotionally impoverished place.

Donald Pittenger said...

I second Armand. Even 110-120 pounds is a lot of weight to lug around (nearly twice what my cumbersome army duffle bag weighed). Try carrying your wife or girlfriend, fellas, and get a reality check in the process.

(Those illustration make it look like those gals were stuffed with helium -- no strain at all in some pix.)

Dave Kapah said...

Old fashion but I find it romantic

doug rogers said...

Don't we have robots to do that nowadays?

Anonymous said...

We still want a man to sweep us off our feet but not if he is going to let us fall when a blonde walks by.

David Apatoff said...

Armand Cabrera-- I suppose weight is more of a problem for many these days than it was in the 1930s. But what better incentive to remain trim?

Kev Ferrara-- Believe me, when I went to grab a couple of illustrations of women being carried in "guy" magazines, I found far more examples of women in the arms of monsters than women in the arms of men. (That's a subject for a whole diferent post). Illustrator Reynold Brown, who did the poster for The Creature From The Black Lagoon, seemed to develop a sub-specialty in them. I thought about using monster pictures here, but I wanted more of an apples-to-apples comparison with what women were reading.

Donald Pittenger-- I agree that most of these illustrations don't accurately depict the counterbalancing necessary to carry that kind of weight (with the possible exception of that splendid Gannam). Of course, this isn't the first time an illustrator has bent the laws of physics to the laws of fantasy.

As for your challenge ("Try carrying your wife or girlfriend, fellas...") my sense if that it's often a question of inspiration; most men seem to have no problem lifting a woman long enough to carry a new bride across a threshold, or for ten minutes of activity in which the man is very interested.

Anonymous said...

The material girls are goal-oriented with a vengeance; chivalric acts will not buy a pair of Louboutins.

David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- I have to admit that until I read your comment, i was blissfully unaware that there was such a place as Jack Vettriano land. Google taught me a.) that he is the "singing butler" guy, and b.) that he has done some pretty awful work since that time. Can you tell me more about the customs and practices of the natives of this land? Why did birds migrate there, and what do they find in such work?

Dave Kapah-- I agree that it is romantic. As for "old fashioned..." it is not currently in vogue for a variety of reasons but the basic physiognomy remains unchanged and can never go out of date: as long as men have the upper body strength to lift women, that will remain one potential tool in the tool kit.

Doug Rogers-- yes we do, although we still have a choice as to whether that is territory we would like to cede.

Anonymous-- Hard to argue with that.

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- Are you suggesting that women no longer care for these illustration themes because they have become "material girls"? I'd guess the "goal-oriented" women you describe are more capable of buying their own Louboutins today (and to the extent they have an interest in men, want them for something more important than shoes).

Anonymous said...


Yes, that is exactly what I am suggesting; it is the era of the narcissistic female. On a related note, if you really want to know what happened to your beloved illustrators, look at the magazine covers the next time you are waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store.

chris bennett said...

David Apatoff:-- “Can you tell me more about the customs and practices of the natives of this land? Why did birds migrate there, and what do they find in such work?”

Jack Vettriano was a self taught painter who started painting when his girlfriend bought him a box of paints – so the story goes. He was however an instant success and his work sold out immediately leading him to be picked up by a West End London gallery with a lot of clout. Big print contracts followed and the rest is Mall Art history.

It seems to me that his popularity is connected to those images you posted in that they evoke the tropes of that era yet suggest a heady salaciousness made potent by the restrictions of that time.
That’s to say, it cannibalises a genre of illustration (pulp novels mainly) into a game of ‘will she won’t she’ that titillates no end the middle classes of this fair isle – his work is purchased by A LOT of women.

I’m waiting for someone to do the same thing with the fabulous Cooper studio stuff. It even crossed my mind to do it! But it would be like putting someone you dearly love out onto the streets.

Anonymous said...

Interesting...upon reading this post this morning, I was subsequently prompted by The News to view an article about this very subject.

Thoughts? Maybe ladies should just wear less-foolish shoes?

PS: I am your son Ben's friend.Your blog is great! Thank you.

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- you're not suggesting that women are more narcissistic than men, are you? I don't think either of us would have trouble coming up with impressive examples from both sexes.

I do look at those magazine covers; they are all the same, yet they remain a constant source of fascination. The fact that the current magazines managed to survive after all the illustrated magazines died out suggests that they learned something about the taste of the reading public that illustrated magazines never learned.

Chris Bennett-- A fascinating case. I took a look at his current work on his web site, and drew two conclusions: 1.) all his fame and fortune could not turn him into a decent painter; and 2.) he seems to have abandoned some of those "restrictions" you mentioned, in that he now specializes in women wearing garter belts and spiked heels in low lit hotel rooms. Not a whole lot of "will she / won’t she" ambiguity there...

Welltailoredsuit-- Thanks, it's good to hear from you! I followed the url you provided and it took me to an entry page with lots of different news articles but I couldn't spot anything there about women wearing foolish shoes. Can you help me out?

chris bennett said...

David Apatoff-- "A fascinating case. I took a look at his current work on his web site, and drew two conclusions: 1.) all his fame and fortune could not turn him into a decent painter; and 2.) he seems to have abandoned some of those "restrictions" you mentioned, in that he now specializes in women wearing garter belts and spiked heels in low lit hotel rooms. Not a whole lot of "will she / won’t she" ambiguity there…"

It seems to be a peculiar form of inverted aspiration David. People will put those later paintings of Vettriano on their walls to hint at sexual sophistication. However, I think it was the early stuff that made his name and people genuinely responded to.

But even the best of those early paintings show a narrow view of love expressed through sexuality.

I think of those marvellous ‘bed sheet’ illustrations you posted a few entries back and how right you were in pointing out the way they spoke of deep aspects of male and female relationship under a linen thin surface of playfulness: How the act of teasing your lover with a splash of water to wake them up for their coffee expressed everything from eroticism to the pleasure of childlike good natured joy in one another’s company.

It seems to me that only the hand made image with is inevitable, in-built, ‘otherness’ as distinguished from the irrelevant ‘presence’ of the photograph, is capable of realising a picture-world that reminds us of such a wholeness.

When I see the endless lines of sultry, sulky, narcissistic photographic montages that bloat out from the magazine shelves… What do they say about what our society has become?
What then is different?
The ‘bed sheet’ people had the cold war.
We have terrorism and global warming.

Could there be just a grain of truth in the idea that the dominance of the photographic image has somehow neutered our culture? Castrated it?

So when we turn to the hand made image in its popular form the only mirror image we recognise is the one Vettriano holds up to us?

Anonymous said...

Here it is! (the original link, at least.)

It's the blog of this totally-weird-yet-great local news anchor for NY1-- Pat Kiernan.

Hope that works!

ScottLoar said...

Why the empty arms now? Because an urban Western woman will not admit to wanting to be swept off her feet by a handsome man, and will murder those who say so. Because men dare not sweep a woman off her feet for fear of being ridiculed (I carried my wife over the threshold of our first home and no ridicule, but that was a much different age). Because the woman are too weighty and the men too wimpy.

Because cynicism allows no romance.

Laurence John said...

if you google 'man carrying woman' you'll see that this little ritualised fantasy is still alive and well in the stock photography realm.

Vanderwolff said...

It's true that there are many stock photography examples of men carrying women, but the contextual element of rescue or implied protector status seems absent; the playful nature, as seen in some of the more traditional 50's magazines, seems to be present, though. It's just that media is so diversified now that it doesn't count as a staple of imagery in the public consciousness, perhaps.

David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- Thanks. Vettriano presents an interesting case. Like the Kinkade of relationships, he paints hackneyed, unimaginative stereotypes employing skills that are at best mediocre, yet he seems to have built a corporate empire on the loyalty of hard core fans.

Good for him for making a living out of art, and for giving people what they want. It would have been even nicer if his work were any good.

I suspect it is too much to say that "the dominance of the photographic image has somehow neutered our culture," but I do think we tend to confuse information with knowledge today, in part because we get more data (in the form of photography and various digital feeds) than most people can assimilate in a meaningful way. Say what you will about illustration, in those images the data has been assimilated, consciously prioritized and "owned" by a human will.

Welltailoredsuit-- Thanks, I got it. Good for Mr. Louboutin and his romantic gesture. (Gosh, I hope he didn't design those shoes he is wearing...)

ScottLoar-- That's a pretty dark view of things. Before you conclude that "the women are too weighty and the men too wimpy," check out the url from welltailoredsuit, above. In the article adjacent to the picture she references, a 300 lb. man got drunk at a ballgame and tumbled down 5 rows, landing on some poor woman who was there with her nephews and breaking her back. I'd wager that she wouldn't have minded being swept up by the right man, and I'd also wager that the slob who fell on her would not qualify as a suitable candidate. (Perhaps we should be mourning the disappearance of ducking ponds and public stocks instead).

But more importantly, I'd like to respond to your point that "cynicism allows no romance." I Agree, but it doesn't take more than two people to create a shelter against cynicism. You don't need society's cooperation for that. From your description of your wife, it sounds like you already figured that out.

ScottLoar said...

David Apatoff;

I, too, like really great pictures. That’s why I attend here, but your question invited reply.

Wimpy, not in girth but lacking resolve; I well know the bovines US airline one-size-fits-all seatbelts must now accommodate. I should have said “wussy”.

We can assume popular illustrative art reflects the moods and notions of its times, and as current fashion obliges the hypocrisy of denying sexual differences we will not see men sweeping up ladies in their arms like the 50’s, but androgynous caricatures will abound. That's not a dark view, that's clarity.

António Araújo said...

"upper body strength"

You're doing it wrong, as they say in the internets.

You shouldn't really carry a woman (or any weight) with your arms, you use your legs, knees, hips. (Just like you don't punch with your arms, again it's all hips, legs - Learning karate or boxing really teaches you were your strength really is). And women are really easy to carry, they bend perfectly around your arms and against your body; much easier than carrying the same weight in any other form. But most guys will pick up a woman like she is a box, and instead of letting her snuggle against them it's like they're afraid of touching her, they keep her actually *on* their arms, away from their body, and try to hold themselves stiff and upright - hence you get a huge amount of torque! Also, you don't really pick her up (that really hurts your back), you just sort of move beneath her and let her fall over your center of mass, then push up with your legs.

I am a short, thin guy, and I could always carry my gfs for long periods, even those who were as tall as me (or taller) and weighed sometimes as much as me (or more). They were really surprised because their sometimes much taller and stronger ex'es couldn't carry them for a single minute (they used their arms, I guess...although I may be guilty of sugesting they were just wimps :D). And when they were small, light girls... they practically lived there. I don't know about the US, but girls still love to be carried were I live!

There was one girl that was really very light; I would pick up her up and she would sort of make her nest in my arms, and if I let her stay there for 5 minutes she would start dozing just as warm and happy as a little bird. And it isn't really very tiring - you just bend back a little so that the whole weight is centered over your center of mass, and you can stay there for a long time. What will kill your back and arms is not the weight, it is the torque, L=r X F, remeber physics classes? :)

I liked the sequence where the guy says his arms feel strange - that really happens! They get really stiff after a few minutes, like they want to stay in that position forever - you do feel like you are still carrying her. The guy who wrote that one really carried a girl for a lot longer than over the threshold :)

Anyway, enough talk, I'm gonna find a woman somewhere and carry her around the block for no reason! :D

ps: Kev, I liked the pics of monsters carrying chics! As I get older I am looking less and less like the hero and more and more like the monster, so it's nice to have something to look forward to! :D

Anonymous said...

well, I do not know why, but women become interest object can be created in your artwork, mostly my Illustration put women object, it may be related to the industry...

Q said...

Mr. Apatoff, I'm Alberto from Italy. I'd like to send you a scan of a Fawcett sketch I bought, but couldn't find your e-mail address. If you like it, you can write me at albertoghe*at*
By the way, my compliments for your wonderful book on him.

David Apatoff said...

ScottLoar-- Like you, I didn't mean to refer only to girth. I meant that the pathetic, undisciplined slob who gets drunk and tumbles down five rows and harms innocent bystanders is not the kind of man you'd entrust to lift you up and carry you in his arms.

As for your point that "current fashion obliges the hypocrisy of denying sexual differences," fashion can deny whatever it wants but the covers of current magazines suggest that no one is fooled.

Antonio Araujo-- My hat is off to you!

larry said...

I've been asked to paint this scenario many times, so it is still done. A few things that you learn when asked to execute such an illustration. First, the point of view always looks better from eye level or above. No woman, no matter how thin, will be flattered by a low point of view in that pose. Second, few if any guy will look romantic or heroic when doing it for more than ten seconds, unless the woman is slung over the guy's back as Antonio suggests, The trick is to get the body gesture quickly and then rest the woman on a high stool or platform to capture the right expression. It's hard to act heroic or happy if you're grimacing or fearful of being dropped. Mr Gannam did a great job. It may be politically incorrect, but those people look glamorous, happy and elegant, like no real life couple would in their position, and that's the beauty of illustration. Some of the others were less successful...and maybe that's why it went away, fewer Gabbam's around. in one, the artist even painted a dress pattern right over the guys hand and that's the least of it's problems.

अर्जुन said...

3 name that artist. I give up. The Paus is signed, who did 002 (Teague or Lovell?) and 009 (?) ?

António Araújo said...

>the woman is slung over the guy's back as Antonio suggests

Dear God! Heresy! I suggested no such thing :D This is more serious than I thought! Didn't you guys attend caveman-dating 101??? :D

To clarify: you pick them up just like in the pictures - only you are careful to angle yourself back a bit and use your knees so that you don't have to grimace and look like you're doing weight-lifting. :D

Really, try it, it works. It looks just like in the pictures, all heroic and crap for a few seconds. Then, ok, it starts to weigh a bit. At this point a good thing is to lock your jaw in a cocky smile that hides the fact that you are really suffering :D This gives you a few more minutes of apparent ease - at this point it is hurting somwhat (but not your back, if you did what I said - only your biceps, so you are actually getting free exercise. If your back hurts, stop right there, you are doing it wrong!), but you don't show it, it spoils the effect! Just pretend your are bluffing in arm wrestling! :D Then, finally, when you reach your limit, again don't show it, and don't drop her like a sack of potatoes - take your last bit of strenght, bluff a cocky "that's it, baby, I don't want you to get used to this" and then (this is important!) ease her down reeeeaally softly and slow and deliberately (bending those knees!) feet first, so that she barely feels the floor. It's better to ease her down like that a bit early than to hold to the last minute and do it with a bump and a grimmace. Do it in a way that sugests you could have stayed there all night long if you wanted to :D
Oh, and control your breathing afterwards. This is the hard part, your tendency will be to breathe real hard and sweat like a pig afterwards. Control it, don't speak too much, smile, and slowly get your heartrate and breathing under control. She'll be a sport and pretend not to notice :D (she WANTS TO BELIEVE!!! :D)

Finally, if she is your long time gf, you can confess that you almost died of pain every time you did that little number (but still it feels really good :))

Really, use your body right and you can do it for minutes before you get too tired. Also, relax those shoulders, tighten your abs, and use your breathing right. My father worked with furniture and he used to carry these huge, heavy hunks of ornate wood with immense ease up long stairs. I never got how he did THAT but it made me understand that if you use your body correctly you'll be surprised how strong you are. By the way, to this day I can't carry furniture right - I'm an Ikea sort of fellow (my Dad would kill me!) and still those big boxes are a pain in the butt for me. I really prefer to carry girls; to each his own :p

António Araújo said...

>My hat is off to you!

David, from the way you speak of your wife, I bet her feet don't even remember what the ground feels like anymore...or where it used to be located :)

Stephen Worth said...

Hello David

A new address for your bookmarks...


Anonymous said...

Rhett Butler carries Scarlett O'Hara up to bed against her will, but see her happy expression the next morning:

Anonymous said...

Tardy to the party, but nonetheless......

Something that is lost in the visual of a man carrying a woman is the hidden implication of the possible/imminent sex.

What does a man do to his new bride on their wedding night? Carry her through the threshold of course.

Of course, the sexual implication multiplies the more scantily clad the woman (and/or man) are.

Look at Tarzan films and their stills and advertising posters, which always showed Johnny Weissmuller stripped down to a loincloth carrying Jane or some short hemmed leggy honey of the jungle in his arms.