Just as there was a “Gibson Girl” in the 1890’s, in which the illustrations of Charles Dana Gibson came to be the personification of the ideal of a modern woman, so, in the early part of the 20th Century there was a “Phillips Girl”, a less well known, but also influential, ideal, portraying an on-the-go and socially active modern woman.
Phillips is perhaps more well known for another stylistic aspect of his work, the “Fade-away Girl”. In one of his illustrations for Life Magazine, which was initially a humor magazine, Phillips used a clever graphic device of making the foreground color of his model’s garment the same color as the background, creating a sort of inverse silhouette. This went over so well that Phillips repeated it, and went on to create many variations on the theme (left, bottom).
Phillips was a strong and talented artist, but in an era when he was surrounded by great illustrators like Joseph Clement Coll, N.C. Wyeth, James Montgomery Flagg, Harvey Dunn, Maxfield Parrish and Edmund Dulac, who can blame him for finding a way to stand out.
It’s easy to think of Phillips as being too reliant on the technique, but he needed a masterful sense of design to pull it off, and his terrific draftsmanship and obvious skill as a painter come through.
Personally I prefer his illustrations that don’t depend on the “Fade-away Girl” (left, top). His beautiful use of color, handling of figures and rendering of fabrics and folds put him in the company (and probably mutual influence) of greats like J. C. Leyendecker.
There is a wonderfully inexpensive collection called All-American Girl: The Art of Coles Phillips by Michael Schau.
the American Art Archives site has an excellent bio and a the best selection of Phillips images on the web.