Through its history, the Jack Tar Togs brand has hired some of the greatest illustrators and admen of the U.S., including writer Irving S. Cobb and puppeteer and animator Tony Sarg, who popularized the inflated characters in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, and created many of the department store’s first Christmas animated window displays.
Perhaps the best known artist associated with the brand was Howard Chandler Christy, an illustrator who made famous the so-called “Christy Girl,” a successor to the “Gibson Girl” of earlier illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. The Christy Girl ads for Jack Tar Togs date from around 1920. Pictured here is a full page advertisement from the May 1920 edition of Ladies’ Home Journal; the Jack Tar lady is pictured with binoculars, as a sort of woman of action on the water. Christy was such a name at the time that he even signed the advertisement.
He worked at at time just before Norman Rockwell; the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. has a brief profile of him on their website, illustrationhistory.com.
Christy’s early career included hundreds of news illustrations, including depictions of the Spanish-American War. Time magazine declared in 1938 that Christy was the most commercially successful American artist. At the time, he had painted Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, and Presidents Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Harry Truman. Other famous subjects include William Randolph Hearst, the Prince of Wales (Edward VIII), Eddie Rickenbacker, Benito Mussolini, Prince Umberto, and Amelia Earhart.
At White House, U.S. Capitol, United Nations
While today, Christy is a name known mostly to students of art history and portraiture, his works are well known. Perhaps the most enchanting and famous is his portrait of First Lady Grace Goodhue Coolidge, painted in 1924. The portrait is in the White House China Room, and is a favorite of tour groups. The room is even painted a shade of red to match Mrs. Coolidge’s dress. The image perfectly evokes the Roaring Twenties, of President Coolidge, president from August 2, 1923 until March 4, 1929, was best known for the prosperity of the Roaring Twenties.
He was so associated with women, and the ideal of beauty, that he served on the first panel of judges of the Miss America pageant, and designed its original trophy.
Christy’s oil painting “Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of The United States,” painted in 1940, depicts the 1787 Constitutional Convention. It proved his skill in oil, and made him one of the nation’s great mural painters. The work measures a whopping 20 feet by 30 feet, and is located in the House of Representatives stairwell. It was followed by a painting of the founding of the United Nations.
Christy, who studied and learned painting under American impressionist William Merritt Chase, was equally able to master the everyday, and high culture. His nudes at New York’s Cafe des Artistes entitled Fantasy Scenes with Naked Beauties are today as beloved as his World War I recruiting posters, where his imagery of women in U.S. Navy garb encouraged enlistment. The ads read, “Gee I wish I were a man. I would join the U.S. Navy.”
Christy died in 1952. His work continues to be collected to this day.