Artists of Interest – Rolf Armstrong
Rolf Armstrong started his education at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where his teachers increasingly recognised his work. The institute was a stepping-stone to Armstrong’s successful career in commercial art.
He travelled to Paris to study at the Acedemie Julian, a private art school for painting and sculpture.
He returned to New York where he studied with Robert Henri who has spent his life challenging the rules of the art world and who taught his students to do the same. He established his studio in New York studio in 1921.
Rolf Armstrong aligned himself with Brown & Bigelow, a publishing company specialising in apparel and promotional merchandise. He painted countless images for advertising calendar art. During these years along side Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell, Armstrong was this prestigious calendar company’s star artist and an eager public awaited next months Armstrong Girl.
In 1927 he was the best-selling calendar artist at Brown & Bigelow.
Two of the first publications to take a chance on this new talent were Judge and Puck Magazine and Armstrong was an instant success.
Eventually Rolf Armstrong’s artwork were seen on several covers for the American and Metropolitan Magazine and he had a lengthy tenure doing cover art for College Humor Magazine. His portrait of a male sailor appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post.
The character of the women that Armstrong portrayed contrasted that of other artists of the pin-up movement. Armstrong’s subjects were strong, confident women. They had an innate femininity and subtle sexuality yet were very much a product of the ongoing American Industrial Revolution.
With the development of national advertising and the increasing distribution of magazines, commercial illustrators were in high demand and artists themselves were seen as celebrities.
During the 1920s and 1930s, his work appeared on many pieces of sheet music, as well as on the covers of many magazines.
Motion picture film technology created screen stars and movie magazines such as the famed Photoplay and Screenland sought out illustrators to create cover artwork donning these new faces. Rolf Armstrong’s portraits consisted mainly of women; Mary Pickford, Marion Davies, Bebe Daniels and Greta Garbo are just a few of the numerous famous ladies he painted.
During the same period, he did advertising art for products such as Nehi and Green River Soda, Old Gold Cigarettes and Hires Rootbeer.
Armstrong’s work for the Pictorial Review was largely responsible for that magazine achieving a circulation of more than two million by 1926.In 1930, RCA hired him to paint pin-ups to advertise their products, and in 1933 the Thomas D. Murphy Calendar Company signed him to produce a series of paintings for their line.
Rolf Armstrong died in 1960 on the island of Oahu, Hawaii as one of the best “pin-up” artists of the first half of the twentieth century.
From the son of a small town tugboat captain to the Father of American Pin-Up Art, Rolf Armstrong led a full life and had a long and prolific career.
Today, collectors cherish original examples of his artwork and bids often soar into the ten’s of thousands of dollars when they turn up at auction.