Coby Whitmore

by Thursday, September 21, 2017

Maxwell Coburn Whitmore (1913 – 1988) was one of the leading illustrators of the mid twentieth century. He was born in Dayton Ohio where he attended the Dayton Art Institute. After an indenture with the ‘Sundblom Circle’, in 1943 he relocated to New York City where he joined the Charles E Cooper studio on West 57th Street.It was here that he would spend the bulk of his career working alongside fellow art-supremo Jon Whitcombe his immense talent and prodicious output earned him the respect of the publishing world as one of America’s top magazine illustrators, working for such periodicals as the prestigious ‘Saturday Evening Post as well as undertaking commercial art comissions for advertising.

It was during this period that he found his true niche in illustrating for ladies magazines along with contemporaries Al Parker, Joe Bowler and Jon Whitcomb.Magazines such as ‘The Ladies Home Journal’ ‘Good housekeeping’, ‘Cosmopolitan’ and ‘McCalls’ consistently carried his work which heavily promoted a post second world war, aspirational ‘American Dream’ lifestyle, depicting white middle-class families living in ideal homes with shiny new automobiles parked outside, beautiful children, handsome spouses, the cutest pets, glamorous fashions and romantic idylls; on the other hand, his work (especially for pulp-fiction) often featured a dynamic noir’ theme/style depicting ‘Bad Girl’ seductive femme-fatales in raunchy settings which seemed a walking(or reading!) advertisement for adultery; it is this particular speciality of his portfolio which I personally find the most engaging/exciting/dramatic!

Whitmore worked with various mediums including oil, watercolour and gouache and although a lot of his work retained a painterly quality, it also featured clearly defined, highly-detailed picture planes which demonstrated his skills as a draughts-man as much as a painter.

Apart from his sublime artwork, Mitchell developed a penchant for expensive and fast sportscars, indeed, at the time, he commented that:“Racing cars, illustrating, and smart clothes on good-looking women,” were his three major interests in life! In 1950, whilst living in Briarcliff Manor, New York, he actually helped to design a highly successful racecar along with a former World War 11 fighter pilot named John Fitch (an imported car dealer in white Plains, New York) which became known as ‘The Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special’.

In later life he joined the faculty of the ‘Famous Artists School’ (personal note: I passed the test for admission to this school’s correspondence course at the age of eleven – all tuition was carried out by post) along with such luminaries of the art world as Norman Rockwell, Stevan Dohanos and Albert Dorne.Whitmore’s talent heavily influenced a generation of superhero comic-book artists such as the legendary MARVEL comics illustrators John Buscema and John Romita Snr. Coby Whitmore was inducted into the Society Of Illustrators Hall of fame in 1978 who described him as: “a dashing fellow” with a penchant for white suits and “a child’s delight in all things. A man of genuine humility, he seems truly not to know how good he is”.In 2007 Whitmore’s work was shown along with several contemporaries at the “Ephemeral Beauty: Al Parker and the American Women’s Magazine, 1940-1960” mounted by the Norman Rockwell museum.

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