Wednesday, April 13, 2011

History Lesson. Today's Subject? Playboy.

Louis Bouche: wood cut
As early as the 1880s American artist-driven publications merging fine art and literary content—most often poetry and etchings—began to appear, published by independent and established presses. Without exception these entrepreneurial ventures were defined by their original art content and popular writers. A successful market quickly developed which carried into the early 20th century and continues to this day.

Playboy—A Portfolio of Art and Satire, first published in 1919, was one such product. The magazine, originally intended as a quarterly, was edited and published by Egmont Arens. He printed the magazine himself at The Flying Point Press, 39 West 8th Street in New York City.


Vollaton woodcut La Paresse
Today, the remarkable “first Playboy” has all but been lost to time, save for the collectors of art and literature magazine publishing ephemera. Limited to only nine issues over the course of about four years, Playboy was a socially progressive and nearly radical publication in its day, known for including jabbing parody of the rich during the “roaring” 1920s. Associated with the magazine were artists of stature in their day and of renown today, including Georgia O’keefe, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, John Marin, Rockwell Kent, Hunt Diedrich and William Gropper. Among this group more than one was identified with sensitive political and social views of the day, and even homosexuality. Hunt Diedrich may best be best known, albeit anonymously to most New Yorkers today, for his public sculptures, which include the original art deco weather vanes atop the buildings in the Central Park Zoo and other public buildings.

Russian Woodcut: A Russian Workman
Issue no. 9 of the magazine, Arens’ last entry in the series, featured several original prints including a linocut by Louis Bouché, an engraving by Rockwell Kent, and an exceptional woodcut by an unidentified Russian artist: given the political climate of the day, it is likely the Russian artist was intentionally un-named. There were also contributions by activist publisher Hugo Gellert, artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Joseph Stella. By this time the magazine’s advisory board included Carl Zigrosser, who would become one of the most famous fine-art print dealers in New York City history.
Issue 9 Cover: Ilonka Karasz

A copy of Issue no. 9 of Playboy—A Portfolio of Art and Satire on the open market will fetch $1,500 or more today. Any opportunity to peruse a copy of any of its issues should be taken. Given the similarity between the earlier editions and those published by Hugh Hefner some thirty years later it is clear Hefner held Aren’s effort in high regard.

Other pieces referenced in this post:

Illustrated Georgia O'Keefe article by Paul Strand
Hunt Diedrich: muse and sketches
This blog post is brought to you by Stephen A. Fredericks, CP contributor and PR master!

1 comment:

  1. Great coverage of Egmont Arens' Playboy, named I believe for Synge's Playboy of the Western World. I think his press was Flying Stag Press, and he owned the Washington Square Bookstore on 8th Street for several years, about 1918-1923. Information from Paul Johnston (1899-1987), Egmont's assistant at the press.