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 John LaGatta  (1894 - 1976)

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Lived/Active: New York/California      Known for: illustration, genre and painting- idealized female figure

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Ad Code: 3
John LaGatta
from Auction House Records.
Cloak room attendant
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from American Illustrators Gallery:
John LaGatta enjoyed painting women more than anything else.  It worked well for him as an illustrator and as a result, he and his wife were able to live a very comfortable lifestyle.  His career was substantially taken with illustrating women for romantic stories, as well as creating exotic fashion illustrations, and eye-catching advertising pictures of his beautifully idealized women.

LaGatta’s images appeared in the nation’s famous most publications; Life, The Ladies’ Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, Delineator, Women’s Home Companion, and Associated Sunday Magazine.  His advertising accounts were with a number of the nation’s important corporations, including Ajax Rubber Company, Andrew Jergens Co., Fleishmann’s Yeast, International Silver Company, Lucky Strike cigarettes, Laros Lingerie, Ivory Soap, and Resinol Soap, all of which were able to continually fuel his needs for luxurious travel, eating at popular restaurants and other signs of success.

In reality, John LaGatta arrived here as a poor Italian immigrant, with a lineage described by him as illustrious.  The family lived quite modestly in Long Island; his father was unsuccessful in business and suffered, as many did, from discrimination against foreign accents at a time when assimilation was the assumed solution for all newcomers.  It was a tough existence.

Because of LaGatta’s art talents, he enrolled to study under Frank Parsons at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts.  After completing school, he gained his first commission for Life magazine and did advertising work for N. W. Ayer, one of the early and largest advertising agencies.  His images were unique and seductive, even risqué, but art directors were willing to take chances to sell magazines and products by using them.

Soon, he was commissioned by the Post for a cover and then hired by US Rubber Company, his first two big breaks as an illustrator.  Unlike Rockwell, Pyle, and Parrish, LaGatta did not use photography to try to capture his models on canvas.  He rather enjoyed the banter during his sessions with the models and felt that he could better relate their beauty to the readership if he knew them personally.  He felt he could not just copy their God-given beauty from a photograph.  Sometimes, confused by the array of beautiful models to choose from, he could not choose between a blonde, a brunette and a redhead.  So, he would often do covers with all three girls in one image, letting the reader decide which was their favorite.

One critic characterized the glamorous women created by LaGatta as “LaGatta’s Chromium-Plated” women.  Few illustrators felt that they could compete with him when it came to bathing beauties.  Although at the beginning of his career, during the ‘Roaring Twenties’, women in America were favored if they had small bosoms with flat-chested outfits and narrow hips with long thin legs.  Such women predominated and were known generically as “flapper girls.”  John LaGatta rather liked another kind of beauty, and his girls were very different indeed.  They were curvaceous, more full-bodied with thick thighs, weighty bosoms, and heavy hips, more European with a lusty look.

LaGatta described the fundamental appeal of women: “Women are aware of the psychological effect they possess over men, and regardless of the degree of modesty they pursue, they play it up to suit the occasion-often with charming and ingenious bits of innocence and varying, subtle ways of flirtation.  Often women demurely reveal fragments of their anatomy.  It is their strength and surely one of man’s incorrigible weaknesses.  In most cases I believe it is simply deviltry for the sake of identity.”

At the beginning of World War II, LaGatta moved to California and started a new career teaching at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, and easel painting for his own pleasure. 

He died in 1977 in Santa Monica, California.

©2004 National Museum of American Illustration,

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