Life Magazine during the Jazz Age

The most recent Modern Graphic History Library exhibit, Jazz Age Illustration, features several illustrations from Life magazine. The  publication had its heyday in during the 1920s before eventually being overcome by the Great Depression. Before Life was bought by Time, Inc. the publication fostered the career of many famous illustrators, some of which include Charles Dana Gibson, Norman Rockwell, F.X. Leyendecker, Rea Irvin, and others.

Below are some highlights of Life magazine from the Jazz Age. During this era, Life catered to the more risqué themes of the era and began publishing jokes, cartoons and even all-burlesque issues. Life also published the humorous writings of Frank Sullivan, Dorothy Parker, and John Held Jr. to compete with rivals Puck and Judge. The result of such a frivolous time in American culture results in some of the most striking and interesting cover illustrations of the publication’s history. Modern Graphic History Library has numerous examples of Life magazine in the Walt Reed Illustration Archive.

Rea Irvin

Rea Irvin (1881-1972) was born in San Francisco and began his career working as a cartoonist. After moving to the East Coast in 1906, he created cover illustrations for publications such as Red Book and Cosmopolitan. Most notably, Irvin served as the first art editor of the New Yorker and was responsible for creating the typeface and the first cover illustration.






Garrett Price

Garrett Price (1896-1979) was born in Kansas and studied at the University of Wyoming and the Art Institute of Chicago. Price was known as a cartoonist and worked for the Chicago Tribune and the New Yorker throughout his career. In the 1930s, he created a Sunday comic strip titled “White Boy” about the adventures of a young boy who learns to live peacefully with a tribe of Native Americans.





Penrhyn Stanlaws

Penryhn Stanlaws (1877-1957) was born in Scotland as Stanley Adamson. Stanlaws would eventually move to New York where he built hte Hotel des Artistes before he moved to Hollywood to direct serveral films. Stanlaws was well-known for his illustrations that depicted beautiful women on publication like the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Life, and others.


Percy Crosby

Percy Leo Crosby (1891-1964) was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens. During high school, Corsby left to work for in the art department of The Delineator. He was shortly promoted to an artist but would only stay with the publication for one issue. At the age of 17, he sold a drawing to Life and eventually found work as a cartoonist. Crosby was best known for his comic strip Skippy, which was an inspiration for Charles Schulz’s Peanuts.



Oliver Herford

Oliver Herford (1863-1935) was born in Britain and was well known for his poems and quotes in addition to his illustrations. Herford was an American writer, artist and illustrator and contributed to The Mentor, Life and Ladies’ Home Journal.




About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.