Military Recruitment Art: McClelland Barclay
McClelland Barclay (1891–1943) was a master of illustration, particularly in the realm of military recruitment art, as the following images attest. Barclay was a commercial artist born in St. Louis, and he had early success. By the time he was 21 years old his work had appeared in magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, and Cosmopolitan.
During World War I one of his military art posters won a prize given by the Committee on National Preparedness. He achieved great fame for Hollywood movie poster art beginning in the 1930s, but it was during World War II that his work for Navy recruitment posters allowed him to reach the height of his popularity and fame.
Barclay painted sailors who were notable for their handsome faces and well-defined physiques, and most of the posters were emphatically homoerotic. Although it is not known if Barclay had same sex relationships (he was married to a woman), he created some of the sexiest commercial male images, thus establishing a new military masculine ideal. The largest collection of his military recruitment posters is housed at the Naval Historical Center in Washington, DC (Navy Yard); 202-433-4882.
Theron MacKay, a gunner's mate who was sketched by Barclay in early 1943 recalls, "Me and another crew member were cleaning a gun, so we were bare from the waist up. Barclay had his sketch pad out and was drawing us. Being an amateur artist myself, I took an interest in what he was doing and asked if I could look over his shoulder. Well, he made us look like the finest human specimens that ever were! Really, we were skinny kids with our ribs hanging out. I said to him, 'I don't look like that!' and he answered, 'Well, if I sketched you like you are, it wouldn't make much of a recruiting poster, would it?'"
Barclay also achieved success with portrait painting and other commercial clients such as General Motors. His paintings for their Body by Fisher advertising campaign were instantly recognizable the world over. Barclay also designed women's jewelry, as well as utilitarian objects such as ashtrays.
A Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, he also worked on airplane and ship camouflage designs. Barclay went missing in the Solomon Islands after his tank landing ship was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1943. His remains were never found.
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