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James Montgomery Flagg (American, 1877-1960)


James Montgomery Flagg was an illustrator, cartoonist, and painter who is most known for his work in political posters including the famous I Want You Uncle Sam recruitment poster. Born in New York in 1877, Flagg’s illustrations were being accepted by national magazines by age 12, and at 15, he was a contributing artist for Life and Judge Magazines. He attended the Art Students League of New York and studied fine art in London as well as Paris until 1900. Upon returning to the United States, he illustrated numerous cartoons, advertisements, magazines, and books including the running comic strip Nervy Nat. Flagg was notoriously confident and often used any means necessary to gain commissions. He enjoyed a bohemian lifestyle filled with parties and friends including John Barrymore, Walter Appleton Clark, and Ham Fisher. Flagg was a founding member of the Dutch Treat Club as well as a member of the Society of Illustrators, the Lotos Club, the Players Club, the Artist and Writers Club. Flagg was commissioned by Calkins and Holden in 1915 to produce advertisements for various companies with the agreement his name would not be associated with the work. Flagg often wrote for Life and Judge as well as acted in silent films. He later was asked to write films for the Marines and the Red Cross. In 1917, he created his most famous work for the United States Army for WWI recruitment depicting Uncle Sam as well as 45 other patriotic posters. Flagg sidestepped paying a model by using his own face for Uncle Sam. It was later reprinted for use during WWII. Reportedly the highest paid illustrator in the United States, Flagg produced an autobiography in 1946, Roses and Buckshot. He was also known for his portraiture for Mark Twain, Ethel Barrymore, and Jack Dempsey. In 1980, Flagg was elected to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. Examples of James Montgomery Flagg’s work can be seen in the National Gallery. However, the real legacy of Flagg can be found in his lasting effect on American illustration and pop culture.

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