Curio Cabinet | September 28, 2020

In 1907, when Coles Phillips sold his small New York City advertising agency, he had enough money to set himself up for one month as a magazine illustrator. He convinced a landlord to rent him an artist’s studio, promising payment as soon as money from his commissions came through. In truth, Phillips had not yet sold a single drawing, but he worked well under pressure. He studied the market and decided that Life, one of the top general-interest magazines in the country, suited his style and sensibility. For days, he sketched ideas for cartoons, but nothing seemed fresh or inspired. Frustrated, he took his sketch pad to a neighborhood tavern. Across the room, two women—one young and pretty, the other older and handsome—sat at opposite ends of a long wooden table and toasted each other over a shared carafe of wine. It was a simple yet compelling moment that inspired him to draw it.

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