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Alberto Vargas: Works from the Max Vargas Collection    by Reid Stewart Austin order for
Alberto Vargas
by Reid Stewart Austin
Order:  USA  Can
Bulfinch, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Belle Dessler

You may not know Alberto Vargas by name, but one glance at his stunningly sensual images and you'll recognize him instantly. Renowned for his drawings and portraits, Vargas achieved the pinnacle of a successful career in glamour art in the 60s and 70s when his work was featured in Playboy Magazine. But his career started long before then. In the 1920s, he was part of Florenz Zigfeld's Follies, 'the most elaborately produced spectacles Broadway had ever seen'. In the 1930s, he became known for his stunning portraits of Hollywood celebrities, while the 1940s and 50s saw the emergence of a new type of image: the Varga Girl.

Alberto Vargas: Works from the Max Vargas Collection is part biography, part coffee-table art book, and part voyeuristic look into the past. Reid Stewart Austin brings Alberto Vargas to life through his carefully-crafted essays and a look at one hundred stunning illustrations. In his Introduction, Austin tells us, 'It was my dazzled pleasure to work with Alberto as his art director for almost twenty years, to know and love him and his doting wife, Anna Mae.' That love shows clearly in every page of this book. It's a vivid testament to the relationship the author shared with Vargas, and a shrine to a career that spanned five decades and is still instantly recognizable.

The book is arranged by time period, starting with the 20s and ending with the Playboy images of the 60s and early 70s. The essay-style text that accompanies the images is written in an easy-to-follow, almost conversational style. Austin shares Vargas's hopes and dreams, his trials and disappointments. But ultimately, it's the breathtaking images that truly elevate this book beyond others that share its shelf space.

To dismiss Vargas's work as pornography would be folly. One look at any of the pictures displayed in this book, and it becomes abundantly clear that Vargas is an artistic genius. It feels as though he knows his subjects intimately, as though he's studied each woman in detail before capturing her image. Most stunning of all is the fact that these are some of the most beautiful women whose images have ever been depicted. Not because they embody the perfect beauty ideal as it's portrayed today, but precisely because they don't. The Varga Girl is a real woman. She has curves and womanly shapes. Her stomach isn't perfectly flat, her hips are rounded, and her thighs often meet in the middle. And she's stunning.

If there's one thing readers of this magnificent book take away, I hope it's the fact that female beauty comes in sizes larger than size 2. Every page serves as a wonderfully uplifting reminder of that fact. 'Alberto Vargas died in Los Angeles on December 30, 1982.' Through this book, his legacy lives on.

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