ART| John Held, Jr. illustrations define the Jazz Age

Held1The cover of the Dec. 17, 1925 number of Life is graced with a John Held Jr. illustration of an athletic flapper.

I first became aware of the illustrative genius of John Held Jr. while researching a paper on “The Great Gatsby” in 1995 or 1996. His images of twiggy, angular young women gave life to the image of the Flapper, those charming, hard-drinking, hard-smoking and liberated women of the glorious Jazz Age.

Born Jan. 10, 1889 in Salt Lake City Utah, Held sold his first illustration to Life at age 15. At 16, he joined the staff of the Salt Lake Tribune as a sports cartoonist and by 1912, he had come east to the capital of American culture, New York. After the interruption of World War I, Held began successfully placing his work in a range of magazines, but his covers for Life, depicting the glories, foibles and evolving mores of the decade. Held’s subjects drink, they smoke, they play sports, drive cars and generally carouse. Simply put, they are icons of 20th-century illustration and graphic design.

When not drawing illustrations, Held occupied himself with woodcuts, creating cartoons for The New Yorker, which was edited by Harold Ross, an old pal from Salt Lake City.

After the crash, Held returned to newspaper work. Two strips, “Margie” and “Rah Rah Rosalie” had brief broadsheet runs in the early 1930s. Though his work is identified almost exclusively with the 1920s, he continued to work as an illustrator until his death in 1958.

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