(1885 – 1964)
From the Gay Nineties up through the 1920s, American humor magazines played a greater social role than is generally appreciated. Their candor in recording the current events in a satirical weekly or monthly forum presented the contemporary American attitudes, prejudices, and mores in the guise of humor that was not found in the more sober mainstream periodicals. Publications such as Truth, Life, Puck, Leslie’s, and Judge showcased the talents of such major illustrators as Charles Dana Gibson, James Montgomery Flagg, Orson Lowell, T.S. Sullivant, Peter Newell, Art Young, and many others who mirrored the country’s foibles in their enthusiastic ridicule.
Joining the group in the early teens was an ultra sophisticated young artist named Laurence Fellows. A native of Pennsylvania, Fellows had received his training at the Philadelphia Academy of Art, with several follow-up years studying in England and in France at the Academie Julien under J.P. Laurens.
Upon his return to the United States, Fellows’ fresh point of view, particularly reflecting a French/Vogue influence, found him a ready audience. His style was distinguished by a thin outline, flat tonality or color, with the emphasis on shapes rather than details. Just as quickly, however, he acquired many imitators. Before John Held, Jr., for instance, had invented his “flapper,” he was clearly adapting much from Fellows’ mannered drawing style into his own submitted gags. Other new converts were Hal Burroughs, Bertram Hartman, and Ralph Barton, who would each run with it in their own way. Fellows particularly liked to play with off-balanced compositions, even in the more conservative arena of illustration for advertising.
One of his early commercial clients was Kelly-Springfield Tires, which gave him the opportunity to combine his elegant draftsmanship with the clever, humorous copy depreciating the competition, thus often violating the rule against “negative” advertising. But Fellows’ drawing and the copy had an edge of good humor that attracted a national following and the successful campaign lasted for many years.
In the thirties, Fellows gradually shifted his emphasis to fashion art, including both men and women, finding clients in Vanity Fair, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, The American Magazine, and McClure’s. He also became a regular contributor to Apparel Arts magazine.
With only a limited number of men’s fashion artists available, Fellows was most in demand for the male-focused subjects, particularly by the newly launched Esquire magazine in the thirties, where he was regularly featured in full-color spreads for many years.
Although Fellows considered himself a commercial illustrator, he was also a painter who exhibited periodically, later concentrating on abstractions. In reviewing his entire career, however, it is his early work, when he found a fresh viewpoint in a sophisticated spoof of the social upper crust, that makes us admire his audacity and leaves us with a smile of appreciation.