Friday, October 20, 2017

Flagg Draws a Model

In this 1934 video, James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) draws a female model while talking about the importance of perceiving the skull underneath. (Link to YouTube).

In the video he lays down a few preliminary structural lines, and then at 2:04, the video makes a jump to a nearly finished drawing. Flagg dramatically signs the drawing, turns to the camera, and as he puffs on a cigarette, he says: "If you're searching for a beauty, and you want her to last, pick yourself a good skull."

Flagg was a star illustrator from 1900 through World War I (for which he designed the famous 'I Want You' poster) and on beyond WWII. He was known for his lightning portrait sketches, but he also had a reputation for being cantankerous.

His model is Ilse Hoffmann, whom he describes as the 'wood-nymph or elfin' type, but not the 'classic' type. More about Ms. Hoffman in the comments of this post (thanks, everybody). The source that I used for the initial draft of this post was in error about her.
Flagg, Portrait of Ilse Hoffman
Read More
More about the love life of Flagg
Book: James Montgomery Flagg
Video by British Pathé
Thanks, Sascha Karschner


Jim Douglas said...

At 1:15 in this video Flagg states, "There are other types of beauty [besides the wood nymph or elfin type], like there's the classical type. And the most beautiful of the classical type that I know is Catherine Dale Owen. It's the English, the Anglo-Saxon type."

Why does Flagg associate the "classical type" with the being English? In architecture, "classical" is most often used to describe forms originating with the Greeks & Romans. So "classical" beauty could just as likely be Greek or Italian as English, and even then the definition is too limiting. Does Flagg believe Chinese, Indian, African, or American skulls are incapable of expressing "classical" beauty as well as an English skull? His opinion is speculative and subjective at best, and racist at worst. The title of the video, "Have you a good skull?" might as well be, "If you want to be a classical beauty, you better have an English skull." This opinion might have been commonplace and acceptable in 1934, but I hope I’m not the only one bothered by it today.

I believe classical beauty has as much to do with how forms are represented as the actual forms themselves. A real artist can discover classical beauty in anyone's skull.

msp said...

OMG! Surely this was a Flagg's tongue-in-cheek cantankerousness film!!!??? Or his perception of idealized "beauty" such as the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Gibson Girls, the Breck Women strove to depict? It certainly speaks to his time and place in history. His attitude is quite upsetting and rejected by most of us today. But thank you, James, for reminding us of narrow mindedness' of the past. Those who do not know history are [doomed] to repeat it. (Burke).

Sascha Karschner said...

Thank you very much James for posting the video. I am a big fan of Flaggs work. He also was quite a character with a great sense of humor, his biography is really interesting.

Ernest Friedman-Hill said...

My favorite part is that the drawing he’s done probably isn’t from this sitting at all — in life the left side of her face is in shadow, while in the drawing, it’s the right!

Susan Sorger said...

It is a wonderful drawing but he did not capture a likeness at all. It is a different person or more imagination than portrait

Rob Howard said...

I was remarking at how many, in those days, sounded like those of us from New England, even though Flagg was a New Yorker. The radio and TV has had a homogenizing effect on regional accents.

David Apatoff said...

Flagg was like the Harvey Weinstein of his day-- a famous image maker, talented and powerful, who unscrupulously took advantage of the beautiful young women half his age who came within his reach.

Yes, he said that Ilse Hoffman was the "love of his life" but he refused to marry her or even be faithful to her. This could not have been helpful to a "complex and unhappy woman." When Ilse finally broke off the affair with Flagg to marry a young man her own age, Flagg reacted bitterly: "I was saturated with disgust for Ilse... she married this young man, who was some sort of stock market runner. Yes, she was a married woman. She'd got what she desired. A wedding ring."

It's a little galling to hear such a man-- even one with artistic skills-- pontificate about the nature of beauty.

My Pen Name said...

@ Rob Howard, yes, there were new york regional accents- not the familiar irish, italian or jewish ones (t'ursday, t'ird avenue) in new york but 'native/anglo' ones - Norman Rockwell had it too - and my Brooklyn knickerbocker grandmother... Samuel Huntington (Harvard professor "Clash of Civlizations" was one of the last living people to have it.

I do think it's shame that things are being homogenized, people from the south especially seem conscious of de-accenting themselves...

Jim Kehl said...

LOL! I can't count the number of times I've taken a picture of an attractive woman at a beach, only to be 'very much disgusted' later when I developed the film because she had unattractive skull bones.

Linda Navroth said...

LOL! I'm surprised that model didn't give him a good slap and walk off!

Jim Schanz said...

Shocking to learn that James Montgomery Flagg, the face of Uncle Sam found the love of his life in the daughter of Hans Heinrich Lammers a prominent Nazi and a member of Hitler’s cabinet who was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment at Nuremberg in 1949.

But Wait. That Ilse was born in 1918 so she would have been about 16 years old in 1934 when the video was filmed. Does she look 16 in the film? How is it that she came to the USA? How and why did she return to Germany where, at 26 years of age, she committed suicide at the fall of the Reich? Has anyone found any good sources? Either some of the quoted dates are wrong or we are confusing two Ilse Hoffmanns. Did they both commit suicide in 1945 or did JMF’s Ilse live on?
I think there is a portrait of the Lammers family on the last link below. Do either of the young women look like the Ilse in the film? I would love some help solving this mystery.

Sascha Karschner said...

Jim, I think that is another Ilse Hoffmann. Ilse Hoffmann was a very very common name here in Germany in that time. I think the source at is wrong there. I read the book about flagg and nothing of that sort is mentioned but it does mention that Flaggs Ilse commited suicide in her apartment which was not in Germany at that time I suppose, when I get home from work I look it up again. Also I ordered Flaggs Autobiography (callesd Rosses and Buckshot), when it is there and I read it maybe we will know better. As you suspect it nothing ads up here.
My guess is that the guy at Spartacus-Educational just googled the name and Lammers came up. Spartacus-Educational is just another blog by some dude, it is not like some official source. But I will also write him and ask for his source. I'll get back when I know more.

James Gurney said...

Jim and Sascha, thanks for doing some sleuth work and helping set the record straight. Apparently there are some mistakes in the post and also in the source I linked to. If you can find the correct story, please let me know and I'll fix the post.

Jim Schanz said...

I've done a little research. Ilse Hoffmann, shown standing with James Montgomery Flagg in the above photo is definitely NOT Ilse Lammers who’s father was the prominent Nazi Hans Heinrich Lammers. Their photos bear no resemblance and they are a number of years apart in age. (Not to mention the fact that they were born with different names!).

The record shows that Ilse Hoffmann, JMF’s model and companion died in New York City on August 13th 1942.

According to JMF Ilse moved to USA from Hamburg at age 4. She returned to Germany for a time, and was back in the USA at age 11. She attended Erasmus High in Brooklyn.

Their love affair lasted about 3 years he says. By 1936 she had left him and soon married “some sort of stock market runner” . After returning from a 1937 voyage to England JMF learned that Ilse had divorced her 1st husband, married a man named Vince Callahan, and was now already “saving money to divorce him”. However she was still with Vince in 1940.

The 1940 US Census puts Ilse and Vince Callahan in a $75/mo apartment at 332 east 15th Street. Her age at the time was 29 year’s old. She is listed as a professional photographer making $900/year. It seems to have been a part time job, perhaps 15 hours per week. (By the way JMF claims to have “put her through the School of Photography”). Vince was also 29 years old. His profession was listed as “Editor, Art Publishing”.
At some point between 1940 and 1942 Isle and Vince must have separated. Else moved to Miami and later returned north and found a $330/wk job supervising photos for a Chicago mail-order house.
JMF relates that one evening (in August 1942) he dined with Ilse and Ilse’s sister Pessie at Ilse’s apartment in New York. Later that night Ilse committed suicide by ingesting potassium cyanide. Her body was found in her bed in the morning (JMF quoting Pessie). This was Ilse’s 5th suicide attempt according to JMF.

The following appeared in the Associated Press’s “Death Roll for 24 Hours” of 15 August 1942:
“New York, Ilse Hoffman, 31, well known woman photographer whose portrait work was published in many magazines. She came to this country from Germany as a child.“

This NYTimes obituary also appeared in August 15th 1942:
“Callahan - Ilse Hoffmann on Aug 13 1942 Funeral and internment private”

(JMF’s recollections are taken from his autobiography “Roses and Buckshot” 1946.)
Census return:

James Gurney said...

Jim, thanks for clearing this up. I took out the wrong info from that other site and just directed people to read the comments to get the right information.