Monday, October 3, 2011

John Whitcomb: Never-Changing Style

I recently posted the first in an occasional series of posts about illustrators who changed their style in order to maintain their careers. Those who failed to do that either had shooting star careers or were the fortunate few who successfully worked for decades with few or no adjustments. Most famous of the latter is Norman Rockwell, who never went out of style and now is on the fringe of being considered a member of the fine arts crew. J.C. Leyendecker had a long run as well, but fell out of favor after a 30-ish year run.

In the present post I deal with Jon Whitcomb (1906-1988) who also did well for decades with minor style adjustments. His brief Wikipedia entry is here. Matthew Innis provides examples of Whitcomb's work along with quotations dealing with the female face, Whitcomb's primary subject. A slightly sour take on Whitcomb is here.

For a number of Whitcomb illustrations that have dates assigned, click here. One illustration is dated 1930, but that must be incorrect, given the fashions depicted; I'd say 1940 would be closer.

This brings to mind the fact that I cannot find examples of his work from earlier than the late 1930s on the Internet (though I might have overlooked some). Whitcomb was in his early 30s by that time and surely must have been in a career-building mode before then. Illustration Magazine notes that Whitcomb is in the queue for a future article; perhaps that will reveal some early exmaples.

Here is some of his production (he presented himself as a businessman cranking out product, not as an artist):


Advertisement for 1939 Cadillac 62
The illustration is signed, so presumably Whitcomb also did the car rendering. However, for years it was common for one artist to do the car and another one the setting. Until I get more information I'll take the signature as proof.

Magazine illustration - 1939
This was done about the same time as the car ad. It shows that Whitcomb had attained his mature style by that point.

Collier's magazine cover - 12 August 1941

"I think I love you" - magazine illustration
Archetypical Jon Whitcomb.

Woman wearing large hat
No signature, but plenty of web sites claim it's a Whitcomb. If so, I'd guess it was from the 1960s.

Minimal face
A great illustration, also likely from the 1960s (can any reader help us on this?).

Jon Whitcomb specialized in the "big face" type of illustration that emerged in women's magazines during the 1940s and remained dominant into the mid-1960s. He did it very well, creating personal fame and earning a bundle of money. Lovely though much of his work is, it's hard to argue that it's anything beyond superficial on any other dimension. From what I've read about him, it's a good chance that Whitcomb would agree as he hopped into his fancy car to head for the bank to deposit the latest check.


mike shupp said...

The face from the '39 piece does look individual, however. It struck me that some (many?) of his works from the 50's and 60's took a lot from film stars. "Woman Wearing A Large Hat" for example seems a blend of Doris Day and Marilyn Monroe. Arguably, this would be giving the public what it wanted ...

He was on a minesweeper in WW II, then a combat artist at Tinian and Saipan. It'd be fascinating to see what his war art looked like.

dearieme said...

Thumbs down. I realise that "me no likee" lacks analytical power, but there you are.