Monday 11 October 2021

John Held Jr. - part 1

John Held Jr. and Gladys Held 1935
University of California, Los Angeles Library
© UC Regents

With unflinching irreverence and caustic wit, John Held Jr.’s pen lampooned the very decadence and superficiality of the Roaring Twenties, that he, in many ways helped manufacture and is so closely associated with. Although brilliant in their satirical evaluation of the Flaming Youth of the 1920’s and early 30’s, Held’s flappers, sheiks and drugstore cowboys constitute only a portion of his diverse body of work. Still, the images inhabited by these impulsive degenerates certainly remain his most durable.

Held sold his first piece of artwork at the age of nine, and his first cartoon to Life Magazine, at the age of fifteen. Held received very little formal training, yet was surrounded by creativity and artistic purpose from his birth. His father, John Sr., played the coronet in a popular band of his own organising, taught his son the techniques of engraving and woodcut, all the while encouraging John Jr.’s natural inclination for drawing. Held became the sports cartoonist for the Salt Lake City Tribune in 1905 and soon thereafter began creating his famous block prints, which caricatured the ideas and social mores of his late-Victorian childhood.

Held went east to New York around 1910 after marrying Myrtle Jennings, society editor of the Salt Lake City Tribune. He was not, however, an immediate success. Although Held would soon receive commissions fromVanity Fair and The New York Times Sunday Magazine, the first several years in the city saw him sharing a cockroach-infested apartment with four roommates and drawing vegetables for a seed catalogue, in order to survive.

This strange venture proved extremely valuable to Held, as he was able to not only fulfil his duty to the U.S. Navy but hone his skills on sketches for comics, based on wartime gags. On his return to New York, Held’s singular stylistic voice would soon emerge, placing him at the forefront of the city’s sophisticated set.

The mid-to-late 1920’s were in many ways Held’s peak years; financially, emotionally and artistically. He had by this time divorced and remarried, purchased a farm in Connecticut and adopted three children with his new wife “Johnnie” Johnson. His cartoon series “Oh! Margy” and it’s sequel “Merely Margy” were seen in nearly seventy newspapers across the country and magazines such as Life, Judge and College Humour were a never-ending source for lucrative commissions. In fact, Held later claimed to have routinely received blank checks from people in need of his services!

By the end of the decade, however, Held was exhausted. He lost a small fortune in the Stock Market crash, divorced again and then finally suffered a mental breakdown in 1931. John Held Jr. would live out the rest of his days in relative quiet. As an artist-in-residence at Harvard and then the University of Georgia, Held continued to create, concentrating his efforts on cityscapes in watercolour and bronze sculpture. John finally found marital bliss with Margaret Janes, his fourth wife and together they worked for the Signal Corps during World War II. Held died in 1958.

Biography by Toby Thane Neighbors

This is part 1 of a 6-part series on the works of John Held Jr:

1912 Judge magazine November 9
The Only Way (Women's Suffrage)

1913 Judge magazine
Is Man Coming to This?

1914 Puck magazine, August
Just Between Friends

1914 Puck magazine, October
A Hopeless Case

1914 Woman with a Fan

c1914 Pierrot
pen and ink 27 x 18 cm

1915 The Smart Set
April 1915 issue

1915 The Smart Set
June 1915 issue

1915c Vanity Fair, illustration Julian and Julienne
India ink and watercolour over graphite underdrawing

1918 Leonia, New Jersey

1918 Palenque, March 13-18

1919 Any Fool Could Do It
published in The Forum, September 1919
wood engraving

1919 Judge magazine, May 17

1919 One Cold Dreary Morning in January 1919
watercolour and ink on board 19 x 14 cm

1919 The Forum
wood engraving

1919 The Highbrow
ink and wash on illustration board 29.8 x 17.8 cm

1919 Vanity Fair, July issue

1919 Vanity Fair, November issue

1919 Vanity Fair, October issue

1919 When the Criminal Takes to Science
published in The Forum July 1919
wood engraving

1920 Vanity Fair June cover

1920 Vanity Fair August cover

1920-35c Branding Iron
ink and watercolour 25.4 x 27.9 cm

c1920 Nocturne
ink on illustration board 30.5 x 18.4 cm

1920s Held's Angel

1920s The Long and the Short of It

1920s "They Want to Fix your Tie"

1920s Afternoon Fantasy

1920s Farmer
gouache on board 25.4 x 50.8 cm

1920s Four Out of Five Have It

1920s Her Social Secretary
pen and ink 20.3 x 34.3 cm

1920s Her Social Secretary detail

1920s Her Social Secretary detail

1920s Large Mouth Bass

1920s Life magazine cover

1920s The Voyage, Vanity Fair

1920s Tin Serving Tray "Here's How!"

1920s Untitled (magazine cover)
mixed media

1920s Untitled
pen and ink

1920s Untitled
pen and ink

1920s Untitled
pen and ink

1920s Untitled
pen and ink

1921 Life magazine, Burlesque Number

1921 Vanity Fair cover

Actors' Fund Benefit 1922

1922 Judge magazine November 25
Army Number "War Babies"

1922 Judge magazine 9 September 16
Eskimo Pie

1922 Life magazine
September 7 Sunday Edition

1922 Tales of The Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald
dust jacket illustration

1922 The Eagle

c1922 The Nest of Hornets
gouache on board 39.2 x 29.5 cm

c1922 The senior member drops his false teeth at the
 water hole
pencil, pen, watercolour and gouache on board
39.5 x 28.7 cm

c1922 The well-dressed member finds his new english sweater is perfect protective colouration…
 watercolour, pen and ink over pencil on board 39 x 28.5 cm

1923 Goats

1923 Judge, June 30 issue
One Up, Two to Play

1923 Judge, September 22 issue
Good-By Summer

1923 The Vegetable by F. Scott Fitzgerald
published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York

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