John La Gatta bridged the enormous gap between the disciples of the Pyle-Wyeth school and the candy box illustrators who eventually closed down a great century of American illustration. Unlike the photo-dependent noodlers who followed him, La Gatta carefully chose his models and worked directly from life when he could, a fact clearly evident in the pieces selected for this well-crafted book, below, from which these scans have been made.
This book is a bargain considering the importance of John La Gatta and his place in the history of this uniquely American art form. La Gatta and his tasteful style of illustration are to art what Duke Ellington and the American Songbook are to music. I said as much in a revue I did voluntarily for Amazon.com. You can find the book there for $29.50 and by searching abebooks.com ISBN: 0942604822 where I saw a copy for $35.
La Gatta apparently had problems dealing with the major calendar publisher for whom this illustration was created. It looks to me as if he cut his losses of time and relied on a photo of a posed model. The upper legs look too foreshortened to have been drawn from life, whereas the following three examples show exquisite delineation of the female form. Click on images to enlarge.
John La Gatta was born in Naples, Italy, on May 26, 1894. He was the son of an educated father and a mother from an old and well-connected family which traced its origins to 1266 and the brother of King Louis IX of France.
Jill Bossert tells us this in her splendid book pictured above. His father, Louis La Gatta, is described as a "somewhat snobbish man, interested in art and beautiful things," which I think had a lot to do with how his son, John, determined to live his life pursuing what Italians refer to as la bella figura.
He's referred to as "dapper," which seems very Neapolitan to me, as opposed to the much more austere residents of Milan and the industrial north of Italy. For centuries Naples had been the capital of the south and Italy's largest city, which made Neapolitans act like New Yorkers do in the USA.
La Gatta brought that feeling of confidence with him when he emigrated with his father to New York. He met the challenges of living amongst pugnacious urchins by learning to confront schoolyard bullies, and racial prejudice by rising above it by engrossing himself in drawing. His first work was for his father, who had established himself in business as a jeweler.
One of Louis' colleagues, Harry McManus, prevailed upon him to allow his son to pursue an artistic career. Young John La Gatta enrolled in art school where he would study with talented young peers such as Howard Giles. Frank Parsons, director of the school, was soon referring to him as "my young Raphael." [link]
La Gatta was soon illustrating for the old Life magazine and making money as an illustrator.
On the way to Chicago by train in 1916 at the age of 22, to pursue a well-paying job, La Gatta got off on an impulse in Cleveland to meet up with Nelson Amsden, who hired him then and there after prior unsuccessful attempts to recruit him for his Amsden studio.
As an overnight guest, La Gatta met Amsden's cousin, beautiful young Florence Eugenia Olds, herself an art student at the Cleveland School of Art. This was the beginning of a wonderful true love story that lasted 61 years until John La Gatta's death in 1977 at the age of 82. Florence died 15 years later in 1992. They were married just short of 60 years.
Some examples of La Gatta's exquisite drawing style.
Keep in mind that these were done in the age of flat-chested bony flappers of the "Roaring Twenties."
A pastel portrait, courtesy of Illustration House, from the book. The style is quite similar to that of my mentor, Harold Irving Smith, who was a contemporary of La Gatta.
A masterful job of painting used as a magazine story illustration.
Detail of the above.
A later illustration for Laros Lingerie.