Is beauty really skin deep? If advertising is to be believed, then it is for women.
The modern woman is pictured as a ‘superwoman’ who can whip up a great quiche and balance the checkbook while she manages her husband, kids, full-time job, 24-hour bra, hair, make-up, weight and nails.
Her image is pristine and her legacy is burning the candle at both ends. An ideal image that’s impossible to live up to.
Jump back a few decades. During the 1930s depression years, women were portrayed in the home. In the early-1940 war years, they were champions of the assembly line. After the war, they were expected to retreat to the kitchen. Nowadays, women are everywhere and probably dog-tired.
Cultural appetites show up straight away in advertising illustrations. The illustrator, McClelland Barclay, is a good example. Before World War II, Barclay was known for his flair in painting stunningly beautiful women.
His long-limbed, rosy-cheeked, fashionably dressed beauties strolled down streets and lined cocktail bars in 1930s advertising campaigns and magazine covers such as The Saturday Evening Post and Pictorial Review.
When you look at his work, his ability to capture momentary beauty is undeniable. You almost expect the women in his advertisements to speak. They’re that lifelike.
His women are also an “ideal” you could never really hold in your arms. It’s those contrasting qualities that tug at the imagination. It’s the same energy that inspired Titian to do 39 paintings of Madonna and 19 of Venus. Adoration of the female form, the best an artist can muster at a given moment.
In illustration art, art and advertising merge. Granted, they may seem like odd-bedfellows and sometimes the message is disturbing, but, if done well, the presentation is complete.
In that sense, illustration art is truly an art form. And it has been used to sell everything from war bonds and brand new Fords to magazines and pulp fiction. It’s popular culture personified.