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 Coles Phillips  (1880 - 1927)

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Lived/Active: Ohio/New York      Known for: magazine illustration, female figure, pin-up girls

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Clarence Coles Phillips is primarily known as Coles Phillips

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Ad Code: 3
Coles Phillips
from Auction House Records.
Holeproof Hosiery Company ad illustration
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from American Illustrators Gallery:
Working between WWI and the late twenties, Coles Phillips was the first to introduce Art Deco styles into advertising design. He illustrated many covers for the Saturday Evening Post with very modern and seductively designed women. Some social historians actually give Phillips credit for the first pin-up girl, later known to all America as ‘The Fadeaway Girl.’ During a twenty-year period, between 1907 and 1927, Coles Phillips was ranked with Parrish, Leyendecker and Flagg as one of the most popular illustrators in the nation.

Born Clarence Coles Phillips in Springfield, Ohio, he had lower middle class family that had no further aspirations for him other than working at the local American Radiator Company where his first job was as a clerk. He quit that position and enrolled at Kenyon College in 1902, for he realized it was a dead end and he greatly preferred a career in art.

His first illustrations were for the Kenyon College monthly magazine, The Reveille, which published his work between 1902-1904. He dropped out of Kenyon in his junior year, to leave for New York City to start his career as a professional artist. When he arrived in New York, he had a reference letter from American Radiator and was hired by their local office. After a brief time, he was caught drawing a caricature of his boss, which got him instantly fired. That very evening, a friend from work told the story of what had happened to J. A. Mitchell, publisher of Life. Mitchell looked at the cartoon and asked to meet Phillips.

The unfortunate sketch turned out to be fortuitous as Mitchell offered Phillips a job, but he decided instead to take more art instruction. A few years later Mitchell hired him as a staff artist ,and Coles Phillips became a name immediately recognized by the Life readership.

From 1908 until just a month prior to his passing in 1927, Coles Phillips covers appeared on Life magazines, at least once each month. In 1908, Coles Phillips created a magazine cover, which was to become his signature, his trademark, ‘The Fadeaway Girl.’

Phillips‘ Fadeaway Girl’ was cleverly linked to the background color which surrounded her dress color so that she gave the impression of being close and far away simultaneously. He subtly combined the foreground and the background in the same color. It was a graphic device, commonly used today, but in its early uses was neither a gimmick nor a signature style, it was rather a new technique.

This graphic device enhanced the entire composition bringing it into the realm of fine art, in an Oneida Silver advertisement or as a fashion magazine cover. To create the effect, Phillips had to study the proportions of the canvas, the cover dimensions, and the negative shapes so he would know whether they worked with the positive shapes. All very clever, simple to understand in its solution, but difficult to strategically plan.

Coles Phillips’ many illustrated books included Michael Thwaites’ Wife, by Miriam Michelson, The Fascinating Mrs. Halton by E. F. Benson, The Siege of the Seven Suitors by Meredith Nicholson, and The Gorgeous Isle by Gertrude Atherton.

He did a voluminous amount of advertising illustrations, particularly for Willy's Overland automobiles and trucks. In 1920, Phillips entered the Clark Equipment Company’s competition, ‘The Spirit of Transportation,’ and his entry took everybody by storm for its unique composition and theme, as well as the use of pastels.

He sometimes wrote the advertising copy to accompany his images, for example a Holeproof Hosiery advertisement attracted customers with this line, “Trim ankles demurely alluring. How they fascinate, captivate. And well she knows glove-fitting Holeproof Hosiery makes them so.”Although he painted many covers for Life, they were not exclusive contracts, and he also did covers for Good Housekeeping, Colliers, The Ladies’ Home Journal, McCall’s, Saturday Evening Post, Women’s Home Companion, and Liberty.

His graphic images of women were so popular that several books were published just of those images, including A Gallery of Girls by Coles Phillips and A Young Man’s Fancy.

As times changed, his work changed with it for Phillips was amongst the first to open the door to more overt sexuality, more flesh shown, and that age-worn word, more ‘titillation’ for the readers. In 1924, Phillips caused a sensation with his ‘Miss Sunburn’ a bathing beauty created for Unguetine sun tanning lotion. The images of ‘Miss Sunburn’ were placed in druggist shops nationwide, but were all stolen within a few weeks.

Many of Coles Phillips images are reminiscent of Maxfield Parrish’s in composition, if not technique. Particularly his Jell-O advertisements in 1919, even Community Silver advertisements for Oneida have images similar to those in the Knave of Hearts, some Luxite Hosiery ads do as well, with their Parrish-like side profiles.

While other illustrators created more elegant images, Phillips used a cerebral approach and design devices to the hilt, making his images recognizable and different, stylish and in demand by connoisseurs of the graphic arts. Yet, the mass audience was enthralled with his work which provided him with many commissions as his images were sought after by magazine audiences.

Coles Phillips died at forty-seven in 1927 at New Rochelle, New York, a popular residential community for illustrators including JC Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell. The day he died, his good friend and neighbor in New Rochelle, JC Leyendecker, took the four Phillips children to Manhattan to see the parade on Fifth Avenue welcoming home, Charles Lindbergh.

©2004 National Museum of American Illustration,

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