This 1950s menu, featuring a scantily-clad waitress who sends her tray flying, was used in the legendary New York nightclub The Latin Quarter. According to a credit on the cover, the illustration was by Vani Cola but try as we might, Cool Culinaria could not find any information about this artist. Then, after our company was featured in The New York Times in October, we received this email from John Raglin, a professor at Indiana University.
It read: “I was intrigued by the klutzy French maid because she was originally painted by an artist I am writing a book about. His name was Enoch Bolles and the image first appeared on the cover of Film Fun magazine that was published in 1937.”
John wanted to know if the Latin Quarter image actually was vintage 1950s or if it was contemporary. He said he was curious about how it had ended up on a menu, speculated that Vani Cola was a made-up name, and added: “For the record, Enoch’s cover art got “borrowed” all the time.”
John kindly enclosed a photograph of the 1937 issue of Film Fun with cover art by Enoch Bolles and there is no doubt that it and the menu cover are one and the same illustration. We also know that the 1950s date on our version is correct because of the prices on the menu.
This is one of the great things that we love about menus, not just the great artwork but the interesting stories behind them. … we were determined to find out more.
We called John and discovered from him, the amazing story of the artist Enoch Bolles.
Bolles, an American painter of pin-up art, was born in Florida in 1883 and became one of the most successful and versatile commercial illustrators in the American advertising industry in the early 20th century. He created hundreds of images of glamorous, all-American beauties and his artwork appeared on magazines such as Film Fun, Breezy Stories, Pep and New York Nights. In all, John estimates that Bolles painted 550 magazine covers, and that he was the second most prolific magazine illustrator of all time.
His most widely reproduced advertising illustration is the “Windy Girl” for Zippo lighters, which has recently been re-issued by the Zippo company.
We had sent John a giclee print of The Latin Quarter menu and he confirmed that whoever created the Latin Quarter menu had indeed “borrowed” the image.
“What’s really interesting is how beautifully it was copied,” he says. “It’s more like an homage than a duplication. Whoever did this was obviously a fan of Bolles’s work. It’s a very confident piece.” According to John it was commonplace at the time in the commercial art workld to copy other artists’ work – it was called “a swipe.”
At the time this must have happened, Bolles was confined in Greystone hospital in New Jersey because of psychological problems. He remained there most of his life.
According to John, there have been all kinds of sensational stories about Bolles’s mental illness, including allegations that he became insane and spent his final years defacing his paintings of beautiful girls with lurid sexual imagery. “None of this is true,” says John. “We don’t know all the circumstances of his apparent breakdown but he voluntarily admitted himself to the hospital. He was very lucid and intellectually engaged and enjoyed having his family come to visit him. He had a small room to himself and he was given an extra room as a studio and he spent his days painting, sometimes enlisting nurses as models. He adjusted to life in Greystone very well –it was an overcrowded hospital but it had beautiful grounds. It’s almost as if he chose to retire there.”
Bolles was discharged from hospital in 1969 and went to live with his grand-daughter. He adjusted to “outside life” very well, according to John, and continued to paint for personal pleasure. He died from heart failure at the age of 93.
The mystery of the French maid illustration is now, at least, partly solved. An admirer of Bolles saw the painting and thought it was would be the perfect menu cover for a risqué New york nightclub. “It wouldn’t have bothered him at all,” says John, of the copying. “He would have liked it because it is so well done. He would have been flattered, I think.”
John has written an extraordinary article on Bolles in Illustration magazine, which has more information about this fascinating American artist. It has a comprehensive display of Bolles's work – you will definitely recognize some of them. Link here. And we are looking forward to John Raglin's book being published!
The original painting
John Raglin's Enoch Bolles Blog