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Alberto Vargas (Peruvian/American, 1896-1982)

Comic Book Art

Who was painter Alberto Vargas?

Alberto Vargas was a Peruvian-born painter who is best known for his pin-up girl paintings. He’s considered the most famous of the pin-up artists, and one of the few who enjoyed real name recognition during his lifetime. “Vargas Girls” were almost instantly popular when they first appeared in Esquire Magazine in 1940. Vargas Girls quickly became a ubiquitous part of American culture. His paintings even became the basis for nose art on many American aircraft during World War II. 

After his employment with Esquire ended over a contract dispute, the nascent Playboy magazine would snatch up the famed artist. Vargas would go on to do 152 pieces of art for the magazine over the course of the 1960s and 1970s. He would slow down in the 1980s, only occasionally making pieces of album art for Bernadette Peters or The Cars. When he died in 1986, he would leave a lasting legacy not only on pin-up art, but 20th century popular culture. 

What kind of art does Alberto Vargas make?

Best known for his “Vargas Girls”, Alberto Vargas was the best-known pin-up artist of his (or any) generation. Inspired by George Petty, Vargas was able to develop a delicate style based around the use of watercolors. His realistic pieces were playful, alluring, and instantly recognizable. His work often transcended the normal confines of the pin-up genre, and was pointed to by both critics and the general public as having merit.

His fame continued to grow throughout the 1960s, thanks in large part to his inclusion in the playboy stable of artists. His portraits of women were delicate, yet powerful, with winking humor that never felt demeaning in the way he treated his subjects. 

How did Alberto Vargas get started?

Alberto Vargas was born in Arequipa, Peru. The son of a famous photographer, Vargas was able to enjoy a rich art education in Switzerland before arriving in America in 1916. He bounced around for a time as a freelance illustrator for many companies (including making posters for the famed Ziegfeld Follies), but eventually stuck with Esquire magazine in the 1940s, succeeding George Petty as the magazine’s resident artist. This relationship proved fruitful, and Vargas spent much of his career there until the 1960s when Hugh Hefner would hire him away to work at Playboy. 

How much are Alberto Vargas paintings worth?

Vargas pieces are extremely valuable, and many go for tens of thousands of dollars, trending toward the hundred thousand dollar range. Vargas Girl, Playboy Illustration, October 1963 (1963) sold for $179,250 at Heritage Auctions on February 22nd, 2010. In fact, Heritage Auctions has a storied history with Vargas paintings, we’ve sold every single one of his top ten highest selling paintings at auction. 

Where to buy Alberto Vargas paintings for sale?

See works for sale below. Why buy from Heritage? Art buyers feel confident because our experts know the market and put careful valuations on artwork for sale. We make the bidding process easier to help you expand your art collection.

How to value Alberto Vargas paintings?

The best way to value art is to compare past auction prices for similar works. View past sale prices below. When you’re ready to sell, contact Heritage Auctions to request an auction estimate of the likely selling price at auction. If you need a formal written appraisal for estate planning or insurance, please contact our Appraisal Services department.

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