Alberto Vargas (9 Feb 1896 – 30 Dec1982) was a noted Peruvian painter of pin-up girls. He is often considered one of the most famous of the pin-up artists. Born in Arequipa, Peru, Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez moved to the United States in 1916 after studying art in Europe prior to World War I. He was the son of noted Peruvian photographer Max T. Vargas. His early career included work as an artist for the Ziegfeld Follies and for many Hollywood studios. Vargas’ most famous piece of film work was that for the 1933 film The Sin of Nora Moran, which shows a near-naked Zita Johann in a pose of desperation. The poster is frequently named one of the greatest movie posters ever made. He became famous in the 1940s as the creator of iconic World War II era pin-ups for Esquire magazine known as “Vargas Girls.” The nose art of many World War II aircraft was adapted from these Esquire pin-ups. In 2004, Hugh Hefner, the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Playboy, who had previously worked for Esquire, wrote that "The US Post Office attempted to put Esquire out of business in the 1940s by taking away its second-class mailing permit. The Feds objected, most especially, to the cartoons and the pin-up art of Alberto Vargas. He struggled financially until the 1960s when Playboy magazine began to use his work as “Vargas Girls.” His career flourished and he had major exhibitions of his work all over the world.
Many of Vargas’ works from his period with Esquire are now held by the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas, which was given those works in 1980 along with a large body of other art from the magazine.
His work was typically a combination of watercolor and airbrush. His mastery of the airbrush is acknowledged by the fact that the highest achievement in the community of airbrush artistry is the Vargas Award, awarded annually by Airbrush Action Magazine. Despite always using figure models, his images would often portray elegantly dressed, semi-nude to nude women of idealized proportions. Vargas’ artistic trait would be slender fingers and toes, with nails often painted red. Notable women painted by Vargas include Olive Thomas, Billie Burke, Nita Naldi, Marilyn Miller, Paulette Goddard and Ruth Etting.