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James Montgomery Flagg (1877–1960)
I Want You for U.S. Army, 1917
100.4 x 73.8 cm (39 1/2 x 29 1/8 in.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of Barry and Melissa Vilkin

Easily the most recognized image in the exhibition, James Montgomery Flagg's 1917 version of Uncle Sam is a self-portrait. Used for recruitment during World War I and again during World War II, Flagg's popular poster demonstrates the commanding effectiveness of a strong design and simple message.

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Biography of James Montgomery Flagg

Born in Pelham Manor, New York, James Montgomery Flagg attended several art schools, including four years spent at the Art Students League in New York City. He worked prolifically in a number of media but is best remembered for his poster designs.

By the turn of the century, Flagg had created a reputation as a graphic designer and illustrator. When the United States entered World War I, he produced his I Want You for U.S. Army poster, which quickly became a household icon and one of the most enduring images of the twentieth century. Although Flagg took the design from an earlier British work, he adapted it in a manner that immediately captured the American imagination.

Flagg is also well known for his many pen-and-ink drawings. Fascinated by the vivacity of the 1920s, he sought to capture the spirit of a prosperous nation in a number of intelligent and witty works from that period. During his career, Flagg also executed numerous portraits in oil, ranging from sensitive likenesses of family members to grand renderings of statesmen and celebrities such as Theodore Roosevelt.

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