The Daily Heller: Paolo Garretto, Smooth Operator

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During the ’20s and ’30s the Italian artist Paolo Garretto was a giant of international advertising design and editorial art, as inventive as A.M. Cassandre, as prolific as Jean Carlu, as witty as Miguel Covarrubias. There was hardly a noteworthy American magazine that had not published Garretto’s work at one time. There were virtually no French, Italian, English and German poster hoardings or kiosks on which his advertisements did not regularly appear. His airbrushed caricature epitomized Deco styling. His geometric conceits captured the romance of the industrial age. Paul Rand called him “one of the world’s most formidable draftsmen.” Yet by the ’50s his ubiquity was on the wane. Art directors called his work a vestige of pre-war innocence. As happens to all stylists, the vagaries of fashion took their toll. Garretto’s approach was no longer in demand, eclipsed by Modern and faux Modern tendencies. Though he never completely vanished from view, and continued working until his death in 1989, his memory might have been forever consigned to the years between the wars if not for the Postmodern ethos that caused designers to quote, borrow and steal from history. In one such appropriation, Garretto’s spirit, if not his actual form, was briefly revived.

Garretto’s fame in the United States was due to the regularity with which his work appeared in FortuneTimeVogue and The New Yorker, but even more directly owing to his work in the original Vanity Fair. As one of Vanity Fair‘s three most popular caricaturists (the others were Covarrubius and William Cotton), Garretto’s work was regularly shown to millions on its covers and inside pages. In 1983 when the inheritors of Condé Nast’s publishing empire (but not necessarily of his wisdom) decided to revive the mothballed Vanity Fair, they tried to imitate its original formula (wrongly, as it turned out, since times and interests had changed). Because Garretto had given the magazine a portion of its graphic identity, it was reasoned that a modern-day Garretto would provide the same allure.

Caricaturists were found who were practicing similar moderne conceits but lacked the insight that Garretto brought to his pictures, insight and intelligence that made his work transcend mere ephemeral style. It was further reasoned that if Garretto, who had not worked for Condé Nast for 40 years, were alive and still capable of making art, perhaps he would lend a nostalgic glow to the fledgling publication. In fact, Garretto was then in his early 80s, and living in Monte Carlo.

He was located by Lloyd Ziff, then Vanity Fair‘s art director, who commissioned him to do several covers. They were, however, rejected by the new editors for apparently being too nostalgic.

Ziff’s discovery awoke my own interest in this artist, which actually began after I was introduced to his work some years prior. And late in 1986 I began a regular correspondence with Garretto that continued until a month before his death in August 1989. My questions to him focused on his professional life, the development of his distinctive style, the people he knew and admired, and why he faded from view. Well into our correspondence I somewhat timidly broached the subject of his early entanglements with the Italian Fascist party and the stories I had read about his having designed the Fascist uniform and being one of Mussolini’s elite bodyguards. From the outset his letters to me were surprisingly candid, open and warm, and amidst the countless references to, and apologies for, his failing health, he recalled his many triumphs and failures, including his flirtation with Fascism.

This article is based on these letters, on conversations with people who knew him and additional biographical material.

Garretto was born in 1903 in Naples. “I began doing caricatures when I was very young, just as an amusement,” he wrote. “Never thinking that I was going to be a caricaturist all my life.”

In 1913, at age 10, his family moved to America so that the elder Garretto, a scholar from the University of Pisa, could do research for a history of the United States that was commissioned by an Italian publisher.

“I knew very few English words at the time,” Garretto recalled, “and was only able to explain myself in school through drawings on the blackboard.”

The family ended their stay in 1917 when Garretto’s father was recalled to serve as an officer in the Italian army. Paolo and his mother settled briefly in Florence. At war’s end his father became a professor in Milan, and Paolo attended the Fine Art School of Brera where, “I always had trouble with my professors inasmuch as I liked Futurism and Cubism and they did not like the [odd] way I saw our models,” he mused in one of his letters. “For I did some sketches in the manner of these movements that shocked my teachers.”

Garretto’s naive interest in the avant garde and his youthful rebellion against authority was consistent with the social and cultural turmoil brewing in Postwar Italy that was splitting the society into two extremes—the Communists and Fascists—and ultimately led the nation to its totalitarian destiny.

In 1921 Garretto’s father assumed a teaching post in Rome and Paolo enrolled in the Superior Institute of Fine Arts to study architecture. He and some friends began to frequent Rome’s famous Cafe Aragno where artists, actors, and politicians assembled to drink, eat and debate the hot issues, and where Paolo began drawing crayon caricatures of these celebrities on the white marble tables.

“One night I happened to sketch a good one of Pirandello and a better one of Marinetti, and a journalist who was there asked me to sketch them on paper. His name was Orio Vergani, a poet and writer of comedies, and soon through him I began to sell my caricatures to the Roman newspapers.” His drawing became more than a mere hobby, and he decided that he too wanted to be a journalist. “I did everything from then on,” he recalled, “writing little pieces that I illustrated and doing posters and decoration for the movies.” In fact, the fickle Garretto quickly switched his ambitions to a career in the film industry, after initially serving as an assistant to one of his professors who was a scenic artist for the director Fred Niblo while in Rome filming the original Ben Hur (with Raymond Navarro). Niblo used Garretto as a translator and hired him to do some graphics too. However, the tiring daily routine on the set was “not for me,” wrote Garretto. “I have always been, and hoped to remain, quite independent.”

But not everything in the young Garretto’s life was so fancy free. As a young boy he had developed a “visceral” and long lasting anti-communist attitude after learning that the Imperial Russian family, “including little [Prince] Alexis,” were murdered by the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution. He wrote that “I can still remember my father reading the article [about their assassinations] to my mother, who was horrified.”

So in 1921, as Italy’s political situation grew worse, Garretto was shocked into what for him would lead to a moral stand.

“I had suffered a terrible experience,” he wrote as if the event were yesterday. “During the anniversary of the 1918 victory over Austria my father went to a gathering at the tomb of the unknown soldier where he was assaulted and beaten by a mass of Bolsheviks. Father came home with a head wound, his uniform in pieces, his war decorations stolen. We were all furious! But father was one of the best men who lived in Italy. He told us to be calm and said about his foes in true Christian spirit: ‘they do not know what they are doing.’ But in those years nearly all my good friends were Fascists [because they too hated the communists]. At school and Aragno they all asked me why I did not join them. But my father had forbidden me to adhere to ‘that bunch of people who are not worth more than the Communists,’ and in those times one generally listened to fathers. Then one day in June 1922 a bunch of Communists passed [my house] shooting, hollering, shouting and carrying red banners. We all went to the balcony to see what was happening and saw them beating the local food merchant, stealing his wine, flowers, fruits, salamis and hams. They also smashed in the windows of the corner cafe before running away. The next day I went to the Fasio to join the Fascist party. But I was too young and was told to join the Vanguardista [the Fascist youth movement] until I turned 21 years old.”

Garretto’s father was furious with his son for disobeying him, and was heard to say repeatedly and seriously, “I have three sons—two are OK, but the eldest is crazy in the head.” Yet Garretto, like so many other young Italians, had been swept away by revolutionary fervor as well as the glamour of Benito Mussolini’s black-shirted legions. The only problem Garretto had was a sartorial one. “I did not like the way they were all dressed up: they had only one common garment—the black shirt. As for the rest of their uniform, they wore anything they liked, such as long pants of any color. So I designed for myself a uniform that was all black—shirt, cavalry pants and boots. My friends who liked the attire copied it. In fact, four of us, Mario and Carlo Ferrando, Aldo Placidi and me became known as the Musketeers.”

By accident this ad hoc collegial group became Mussolini’s formal honor guard. For in 1922 after being rebuffed by Parliament in a crass power play, Mussolini gathered his legions around the Royal Palace in Rome to give an ultimatum to King Victor Emanuele. The King received the bald soon-to-be dictator and named him to head the government.

Garretto recalled the thrill of that day: “Mussolini and the other Facist leaders came down among us. The Musketeers were all lined up at attention, and when Mussolini saw us in our crisp new uniforms he asked Gino Calza-Bini, the founder and leader of the Roman Fascio, ‘Who are these?’ My friend Placidi was prompt to answer: ‘We’re the Musketeers!’ To which Mussolini responded, ‘…they shall be my Musketeers!’ and passed on. In the evening we were ordered to the Fascio and told that we would become 33 instead of four. Calza-Bini was happy and we were too, but we did not know what kind of an ordeal it was going to be from that day on. This was the beginning of a period that [in hindsight] I did not like at all.”

With Il Duce’s approval, Garretto became a charter member of the manipolo (a formation of 33 men based on Julius Caesar’s plan of military organization in which three manipoli equal one legioni) whose expressed task was to escort Mussolini and his four lieutenants to various ceremonies. “There were always six or eight of us on duty,” Garretto wrote. “And who was the one that was nearly always on duty? Not being married nor having any business to attend, I was one of those. You can imagine my life at home,” he added with a touch of sly humor. “My father was furious inasmuch as I could not attend my Art Academy and continue studying to become an architect. My mother was worried to see me always on the run, but there was nothing to be done. For in the meantime Mussolini had founded the Milizia Volontaria Sicurezza Nazionale [the volunteers for national security], which enlisted all its Fascist members for life. So I found myself militarized forever.”

Garretto’s conscription lasted only one year. Though his biography in a 1934 issue of Vanity Fair called him an “enthusiastic Fascist and founder of Mussolini’s body guard,” he insists it was an act of folly that he tried to overcome. One day, in fact, his father interceded on his behalf with the general in command of the Milizia. He explained to the general that his son’s duty to Il Duce was ruining his chances for a position in architecture, and asked if Paolo could be given a leave of absence until graduation. Miraculously, the general agreed. “He asked me to give my name, date of birth, and address to his secretary,” recalled Garretto, “who typed it up, got it signed, and gave it to my father. We bowed, went outside, and to our surprise we saw on the paper that he had signed a permanent discharge.” To this day it is still a mystery whether the order was deliberate or a classic example of Italian efficiency.

As for the anti-Communism that caused him to embrace Fascism, it prevailed until his death, but regarding his flirtation with the party. “I consider all these years of my youth a great, useless lesson inasmuch as I am still not able to say what is right and what is wrong.” Garretto also wrote about 1925, the year of his reprieve, with a decidedly palpable sense of joy and innocence. “Aside from the Academy I started to really live.” At this time that he was drawing caricatures for more Roman newspapers and satiric journals, but his primary aim was to get a passport and start traveling. The first stop in what would become a peripatetic lifestyle was Paris, where Garretto hoped to find a market for his caricatures (which by his own description were “very different and modern”). After two weeks, however, he had not made any significant contacts and returned to Rome. But in 1927 he was urged by some former art school friends to return to Paris; since they had found work there they assured him that he would too. Their jobs were with Dorland Advertising, the largest agency in the world. Garretto was introduced to their boss, one Mr. Maas, who loved his drawings and suggested that he go to London where there were many color magazines requiring good illustration. Maas was the representative for the “Great Eight,” a group of British publications including The Illustrated London News, The GraphicThe Bystander and The Tatler, among others. With a glowing recommendation letter, Garretto flew to London, where he presented some decidedly unconventional caricatures of Chamberlain, Lloyd George, D’Annunzio and Mussolini. “They [the editors] asked me to leave the drawings as well as my address in Paris so they could contact me. However, after a few weeks without any word from them I returned to Rome [dejected] and proceeded to focus my energies on getting my architecture degree.”

The impatient Garretto gave up too soon. For one day, shortly after his return, he recalled receiving a phone call from one of his friends in Paris who excitedly said, “Paolo … how did you do it? How did you get into the British press?” The friend explained that in the current issue of The Graphic were printed four color caricatures with a caption announcing that these were “new ideas of a young French caricaturist.” Garretto was ecstatic (though he definitely did not want to be “branded as French”) and bought all the copies of The Graphic on sale at his local Roman newsstand. He also learned that the “Great Eight” was looking for him all over Paris so that they could award him a contract for regular contributions. Thus began what he called “the beginning of my international artistic adventure.”

Many monumental things happened in 1927. In addition to embarking on the road to fame and ubiquity as a graphic artist, “I also married [his first wife Ariane], went to live in Paris and worked in London,” Garretto wrote. “But my wife did not like London so I had to commute every week by airplane (Fokkers from the war that were adapted by Air France to make the trip over the Channel).” Over the years he made hundreds of caricatures for the “Great Eight” and for advertising clients too. “It was pleasant for a while,” but then he admitted, “with the years passing by, the faces to caricature were becoming scarce.”

To find other challenges he began doing some work in Italy for Gazzetta del Popolo in Turin (a newspaper for which he designed a format), Rivista del Popolo d’Italia (Mussolini’s flagship magazine), and Natura, a beautiful Milanese magazine for which he designed the covers, and which were reproduced in the leading advertising arts magazines in Europe and the United States.

The late ’20s was not only a time of political upheaval, but a period when artists believed in the power to change people’s thoughts through graphic design.

“As all others, I was pushed by Cubism, Futurism, Divisionism (what our professors had called ‘stupid inventions to get attention and fame any way possible’). I tried very hard to be different,” wrote Garretto about the genesis of his personal style. “We were all conscious that we were pushing and trying to change something or everything. I recall when Fortunino Mantania, a very famous [art nouveau] illustrator from the turn of the century, came to my father’s house one evening. To get his opinion, I showed him a drawing I had made for a new brand of coffee. He told me to forget, what he called, my ‘fantasies and useless tricks’ and design a nice, nearly naked girl embracing the package instead of my smiling Neapolitan cafeteria (coffeepot) pouring coffee in a demi-tasse.” Garretto respected him, but thought his ideas were old fashioned. So instead, “I did my idea and it was bought.”

Garretto’s approach was based on simplification of primary graphic forms into iconic depictions and loose, but poignant, likenesses. Vibrant, airbrushed color was his trademark, and he also experimented with different media to create exciting new form, including experiments with collage and modeling clay, which proved fruitful. Without his superb draftsmanship what is now pigeonholed as Deco styling would surely have been a superficial conceit, but his conceptual work was so acute, and his decorative work was so well-crafted, that he eschewed these pitfalls. Writing in a 1946 issue of Graphis, his old friend and sponsor from the Cafe Aragno days, Orio Vergani, describes Garretto’s ingenuity this way: “Once the constructive theme of his images is discovered, Garretto proceeds to the invention of the media necessary for executing them. I believe he has painted, or rather constructed, his images with everything: scraps of cloth, threads of rayon, with the bristles of his shaving brush, with straw, strips of metal and mill board, with iron filings and sulfur, tufts of fur and wings of butterflies. His colors are born of a strange alchemy of opposed materials in the light of an artificial sun; he seeks for the squaring of shade as others have sought for the squaring of the circle.”

Though Garretto lived and worked out of his flat in Paris, the City of Lights was no more than a base from which to work for publications and agencies in other major world capitals. He visited Berlin often, where he worked for the Berlin Illustrated News, Leipzig Illustrated, Der Querschnitt, Der Sport im Bilder, and others (until Hitler assumed power and had expelled many of the Jews on the creative staffs of these journals). In London he did advertising work through the London Press Exchange, the most important advertising outfit in the British Empire, basically because Charles Hobson, its director, asked him to do some “modern and surprising posters.” Owing to his own globe-trotting and the consequent lack of time for what he called “mondanities,” Garretto did not nurture many friendships in Paris. He did, however, know the French masters of poster art, A.M. Cassandre, Jean Carlu, Charles Loupot and Paul Colin, and was briefly connected to their advertising “agency,” Alliance Graphique, owing to his friendship with a Montmartre printer named Dupont. For this agency he did a sketch of a poster for Air France’s new airline, La Fleche d’Orient. It was immediately bought by the client, apparently ruffling the feathers of the other Alliance members, whose own attempts to sell their ideas had failed. Avoiding silly rivalries and business minutia was why Garretto invariably preferred to handle most of his other advertising accounts directly with the client. Around this time he met Alexey Brodovitch at his office at Les Trois Quartiers, the chic Parisian department store, for which he was art director. It was an acquaintance that would have interesting consequences later in Garretto’s career.

“I had seen some of Brodovitch’s work,” recalled Garretto, “and was very enthusiastic about his new way to advertise men’s clothes, shoes, and women’s beauty products. For me, an admirer of the [raucous] Futurists, it was very exciting to meet this very calm, controlled Russian.”

Garretto’s caricatures were published in the United States, first by the Philadelphia Ledger and the New York Sunday World, then Fortune Magazine started using covers, and later he did drawings for The New Yorker‘s profiles—but his really significant American exposure occurred in October 1930 when Clare Boothe Brokaw, one of Vanity Fair‘s chief editors, requested his services in a “flattering but unexpected” letter sent to his Paris home:

“Dear Monsieur Garretto,

“The Editors were very much impressed with your cartoon of Gandhi in the August issue of Fortune. We had also in our files some excellent caricatures made by you for the December, 1927 issue of the Graphic. It occurred to us that you may possibly have some other caricatures of prominent people, or cartoons of a political, artistic, or social nature, which you maybe able to send us. We should be very glad to consider them for publication in Vanity Fair.”

Garretto, however, did not respond until late December after Brokaw insisted in a second note that:

“We are indeed anxious to see your work, and if there is something we can use, we are anxious to do so in a forthcoming issue.”

Garretto no longer hesitated, and immediately sailed to New York to meet his new clients.

“Aside from the satisfaction that I always had through my work, I must say that the Vanity Fair period was really the most exciting of my life,” he recalled with a distinct melancholy about the special time that had passed. “I never had the slightest problem with them—[Frank] Crowninshield was a kind and most comprehensive editor, and what can I say of those beautiful and bright, intelligent Clare Boothe Brokaw (later Luce) and Helen Lawrenson? It was really a joy for me to go to New York every time. Not to speak of my friendship with M.F. Agha [Vanity Fair‘s legendary art director] whom I had met first in Berlin when he was art director of German Vogue.”

He spent time with Condé Nast in Paris and New York, stayed at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and cultivated friendships with many of New York’s rich and famous. It was a charmed life. Fortunately for Garretto’s bank book he was commissioned by the New York office of the Italian Lines to execute some travel posters. For in addition to his fee they provided him with 50% discounted tickets on their transatlantic steamers. Since Garretto commuted to the United States almost as frequently as he went to London, the savings were well appreciated. When he elected to stay at home his working relationship remained unhindered by what today is a comparatively slow means of travel and communications. Indeed, he said that it was faster in the 1930s to send a drawing from Paris to New York (usually it took five to six days) than to send a package to Milan (taking 10 to 15 days). Moreover, his rapport with the editors was exemplary, given the commonplace interference in visual matters exercised by editors today.

“In general I would be told that [Vanity Fair] wanted a cover for a certain month and I would conceive it, send it, and then see it published,” he explained. “Only once did I have to rush another cover drawing because the one I had sent could not be used.” In this case the new one became a classic example of Garretto’s caricature as design in the service of polemics. It was rather prescient too, for this cover showed the world sweating under the heat of the Japanese flag (in a reference to an important world naval convention that Japan refused to sign). “Condé Nast wrote me a complimentary letter asking how ‘I came to nurture this idea.’ I told him that I knew the Japanese had no interest in signing a treaty that would limit their control. To me it was quite clear that Japan was growing fast and was very hungry for [power].”

Most of Garretto’s concepts were his own, and were often based on his sometimes profoundly acute—yet other times devastatingly naive—understanding of world politics. In addition to his commercial work, Garretto considered himself a journalist. He had been affiliated with newspapers for a long time, and so, as the war clouds over Europe began to darken and swell in the late ’30s, Garretto was allowed to travel, owing to his longstanding affiliation with the Italian Press Association, which made it possible for him to get visas for almost any country. When the war suddenly broke out in 1940 he was, however, in Turin art directing—”changing the face”—of the Gazzetta del Popolo and, because he was an Italian citizen could not get a visa to return to Paris to be with his wife (whom he later divorced) and son, who where stranded when the French frontier was closed to foreigners. Instead, he left for New York from Naples on the steamship Conte di Savoia, which was filled to capacity with Americans fleeing the future battleground. On board he shared a table with John Paul Getty, “who wanted to be left alone and was upset when he learned I was a newspaperman, but was mollified when I drew a caricature of him. He later told me to call him if I needed anything in the United States.”

Back in New York, Garretto worked for his friend M.F. Agha, who took over at Vogue after Vanity Fair had folded. He did covers for others. One such commission was earned a year before, through Brodovitch and editor Carmel Snow, who offered him a contract to design the 12 1940 covers for Vogue‘s competitor, Harper’s Bazaar. But as an American war with Germany and Italy was quickly becoming inevitable, Garretto’s past association would prove an insurmountable obstacle in his attempt to do more work and be allowed to stay in New York. The first problem arose with Harper’s Bazaar. Before leaving for Turin in 1939 he had completed finishes on two of the covers. When he returned he was anxious to complete the rest. But neither Snow (who was working with her publisher, Hearst, in California) nor Brodovitch (who was on vacation) could be found to discuss the jobs.

“So I started to work on ideas for covers for February and March,” he recalled. “Some time after this I reached Brodovitch, who told me in the nicest and kindest way he could that my contract was broken.” Garretto learned through the grapevine that a biography, titled Fascist Artist, printed in Vanity Fair in 1934 was making the rounds of Harper’s Bazaar, and given the tenor of the times the editors refused to give this “Fascist Artist” any work. “Happily for me,” wrote Garretto, “I always had Condé Nast and Fortune to accept me, so I carried on, nevertheless with a bit of bitterness, as you can understand. I later heard from Agha that Brodovitch had told him that he suffered but had to ‘obey orders.’ In my opinion he obeyed orders too strictly.”

Garretto was also given certain jobs to keep spirit and soul alive, including the re-rendering of Cassandre’s original Dubonet Man. It was assigned to Garretto by Paul Rand, then the art director of The Weintraub Agency that handled the account. Rand told me: “Garretto was a masterful artist, and accepted this job without any reservation or resentment even though I was not asking him for his own ideas.”

Because of the danger of war, President Roosevelt had stated that no German or Italian citizen could get a quota visa for the United States, and Garretto’s visitor’s visa allowed him only a few months sojourn. Covarrubias had assured him that he could help obtain a permanent visa in Mexico, so as to avoid deportation to the Virgin Islands. Unfortunately, this never materialized. However, since one of the many dignitaries Garretto met during his travels was Secretary of State Cordell Hull, he was told by Hull’s secretary that if he returned to Italy he could come back to New York to apply for permanent residency.

“But there was no time for this,” Garretto recalled. “Italy entered the European war. (And in the meantime I married my second wife in New York.) I was arrested, as were all other Italian newspapermen, and taken first to the Tombs [a New York prison], and then to the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs to join the Italian, German and Japanese diplomatic internees. After six months we were embarked on the Grottingholm, a Swedish boat as old as Noah’s ark, to Lisbon, where wagon-lit trains were waiting to take us to our respective countries.”

Just as his fling with Fascism was tolerated in America before the war, his farcical caricatures of Mussolini and Hitler (published in the United States) were only tolerated in Italy until war broke out. Garretto had heard that Mussolini was not pleased with a certain anti-war article he had written a few years earlier. So when he returned to Rome, Garretto was not in favor. And when he refused to do propaganda (owing, he wrote in a rather far-fetched statement, to an FBI declaration that he signed before being deported not to do any anti-US propaganda), he was forced to come up with an idea that would prove his patriotism and not land him in an Italian prison for insubordination or treason. His brilliant idea, which is quite funny in hindsight, was to help teach Italian to those peoples conquered by the victorious Fascist forces.

“I had patented an idea to teach our vocabulary through the movies,” wrote Garretto. “One would see a cartoon, a short (with live actors) and through the sound, the image, and written captions could learn the language.”

Garretto was sent with his new wife, Eva, to Budapest to put his invention into practice. His stay was rather pleasant until Mussolini was deposed, exiled and then reestablished as a puppet by Hitler. This meant that if an Italian living in a German-occupied country did not become a “new Fascist” in support of the new Duce, he or she would be interned as an enemy alien by the Germans. Such was Garretto’s fate for nine months until he and his wife were evacuated by the Germans in the face of the Russian advance. They were eventually deported to Trento, Italy, where they were able to escape from a transport train during an allied air raid, and managed to flee to Milan, where Garretto and his wife were helped by friends, even though they were “suspect citizens,” according to a document they were forced to carry.

With the war’s end, Garretto returned to Paris as an “ex-enemy.” Though it took time to reestablish himself, he made covers for the fashion magazine Adam and a few other small journals. In Italy he published a children’s book that he had written while interned in Hungary, and worked for several magazines, including Arbiter, Per Voi Signor, and others. In 1946, with the help of some friends, he was able to get a visa to return to the United States, where he designed a perfume bottle that was produced by Lucien Lelong. But generally speaking, in the United States his work was not as sought after as before the war.

“It is not me who stopped working for the American magazines,” he wrote in answer to the question of why he terminated his American associations, “but the American magazines changed a lot. They published less and less drawings. In my time, maybe there were less photographers. And the old art editors died or changed and maybe the new ones did not even know my work! My last serious appearance was in Vogue, in a special section dedicated to [the musical] South Pacific. So you see I did not stop … they did.” Dejected, he returned to France, where he worked for the Italian magazine Panorama and other “low-circulation, low-paying magazines.”

In 1952 Garretto found that living in France became a big problem. He “started to be singled out by the income tax operators in Paris, who found that I had not paid income tax in France on what I was earning in the US, Italy, etc. It was useless to tell them that I paid regularly in those different countries. So they fixed a big fine—too big for me to pay—and I decided to leave Paris and start again in Monaco where there is no income tax, but they tax you indirectly through prices that are higher than in France or Italy.”

Until Garretto’s death in August 1989, he actively pursued his life’s work. Though appearing only once in an American publication since the early ’50s—actually in a subscription flyer for Condé Nast’s Traveller—he has had many exhibitions throughout Italy and a critical biography about him was published in Naples. Yet despite today’s retro-illustrators who have borrowed and made a success of the Garretto approach, his own contemporary work, including portraits done in his 1930s style of The Beatles, Margaret Thatcher, and Liza Minnelli, is quite out of sync with the times. Stale even. Regardless of Garretto’s formidable drafting skills, his more recent representations of contemporary personalities lacked the intuitive strength that underscored his earlier work. Perhaps it might also be argued that the famous and infamous of the ’20s and ’30s are bigger than life while today’s are merely human scale. Maybe Margaret Thatcher could never be as powerfully charged a portrait as Benito Mussolini. Whether Garretto’s contemporary work holds up or not, the work he did during his heyday will be remembered among the most innovative caricature and illustrative design of the golden age of graphic style.

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