Top 5 Life Magazine Covers (1920-1929)

F G Cooper F X Leyendecker Garrett Price Golden Age Illustration Golden Age Illustrators Golden Age of Illustration John Held Jr. Life Magazine magazine covers R John Holmgren vintage magazines

Life magazine struggled during the 1920s, as it scrambled to find its voice and audience amid changes in popular taste. Even so, the covers haven't changed much at all, and we still see much of the playful humor and bizarre imagery that is characteristic of them.

This is one magazine that held up well over those decades, and today we will continue our exciting journey as we explore the Life magazine covers of the 1920s.

 5.) "Balance of Power" by F. X. Leyendecker (March 9, 1922): Aside from the delightfully playful nature of the subject matter, this cover is very well designed. The composition is balanced, and the green in the background serves to bring out the focal points. F. X. Leyendecker (not to be confused with his brother, J. C. Leyendecker,) would sadly die two years later, but I can't help but wonder what other amazing art he would have made had he lived longer.

4.) "The First Rose of Summer" by R. John Holmgren (May 24, 1929): This cover is exceptional for its use of bright colors in the woman's cape. These colors are vibrant and varied without clashing.

But besides this, one thing that intrigues me the most is how stunningly well-drawn the figure itself is, and, as any serious student of figure drawing can attest, this is not an easy skill to master. I remember, as a high school student, practicing drawing nudes during class, (something I'm actually rather surprised I didn't get in trouble for,) so I know firsthand how tough that can be. And that's all the more reason why I believe this one deserves to be included on the list. Well done, Mr. Holmgren!

3.) "Guaranteed to Make No Sense" by John Held, Jr. (November 4, 1926): A veritable cornucopia of bright colors, wild and wacky shapes, and delightfully twisted hand-lettering! This crazy cover may be guaranteed to make no sense, but this is why I love it so much! Proof that a design doesn't always have to be sensible or logical to be a good one.


2.) "Thanksgiving Number" by F. G. Cooper (November 18, 1926): Every once in a while, you discover an artist whose work resonates with you so much that you wonder why you didn't know of him or her before. F. G. Cooper is one such artist in my case, and I was also pleased to find out that, even now, he has a following and is one of the more well-respected graphic artists of the 20th century.

As far as this design is concerned, let's just say he doesn't have this following for no reason! The delightfully minimalist composition effectively zeroes in on the main subject, which the bright red background further emphasizes.

As far as the subject itself, it does seem a bit odd that dice would have been considered relevant imagery for Thanksgiving. But, considering the history of the 1920s, with its financial prosperity, excess, and sexual liberation, once might easily interpret this image as being thankful for good luck! Sadly, that good luck was short lived, as the stock market would crash less than three years later, ushering in the long and brutal Great Depression.

Before I unveil my number one pick, here are some honorable mentions:

"The Burlesque Number" by John Held, Jr. (September 10, 1925)

"Hold 'Em" by John Held, Jr. (November 19, 1925)

"The Thinker" by John Held Jr. (March 18, 1926)

1.) "Feminine Number" by Garrett Price (August 27, 1925): There are two different perspectives on what makes this an interesting cover all around. The first is historical. As social mores loosened after the constraints of the Victorian and Edwardian periods, women ditched their corsets (just as they tried to do with their bras during the 60s,) they cut their hair in bobs, and they shortened their skirts (often defying legal regulations on skirt length.) Many men thought they were going too far, and all those who had lived through the more constrained (and ostensibly more innocent) earlier periods were, needless to say, not happy with these changes.

Besides the social commentary, another thing I absolutely love about this cover is how brightly colored it is. Maybe I'm a bit biased, given my predilection for MTV videos of the 80s, but somehow I can't help but see the figures, colors and abstract shapes move around in unpredictable ways while accompanied by blaring synthesizers and gated drum rhythms.

And that's it for this list. Which of these covers did you like the best? Were there others you wish I had included? Please let me know in the comments, and we can get a good conversation going.

Till next time!

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