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Patrick Nagel

Patrick Nagel
BornNovember 25, 1945
DiedFebruary 4, 1984(1984-02-04) (aged 38)
Alma materChouinard Art Institute
California State University, Fullerton
StyleArt Deco

Patrick Nagel (November 25, 1945 – February 4, 1984) was an American artist. He created popular illustrations on board, paper, and canvas, most of which emphasize the female form in a distinctive style descended from Art Deco. He is best known for his illustrations for Playboy magazine and the pop group Duran Duran, for whom he designed the cover of the best-selling album Rio.


Nagel was born in Dayton, Ohio, on November 25, 1945, but was raised and spent most of his life in the Los Angeles area. After serving in the United States Army with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam,[1] Nagel attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1969, and in that same year he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from California State University, Fullerton.

The only full biography of Nagel, entitled The Artist Who Loved Women: The Incredible life and work of Patrick Nagel, the most successful & anonymous American artist of the 1980s,[2] was written by Rob Frankel and published in 2016.

In 1971, Nagel worked as a graphic designer for ABC Television, producing graphics for promotions and news broadcasts. The following year, he began work as a freelance artist for major corporations and magazines, including Architectural Digest, Harper's Magazine, IBM, ITT Corporation, MGM, Oui, Rolling Stone, United Artists, and Universal Studios.

In 1976, Nagel began to regularly contribute images to Playboy magazine, which improved his exposure and the popularity of "the Nagel Woman" image to a huge audience. Over the next seven years, at least one Nagel drawing appeared in every issue of Playboy, most notably in the Playboy Advisor, Playboy Forum and Playboy After Hours columns.

His work also graced the album covers of recording artists such as Tommy James,[3] Charlene,[4] Thelma Houston[5] and Cissy Houston.[6][circular reference]

In 1977, he made his first poster image for Mirage Editions, with whom he printed many images, his most famous being those of "Nagel women."

Nagel's 1982 painting for the album cover of rock group Duran Duran's hit album Rio became one of his better known images (see below).

He also worked for many commercial clients, including Intel, Lucky Strike cigarettes, Ballantine's Whiskey, and Budweiser.

As his popularity grew he began offering limited edition prints of his work. As his limited edition, lifetime, numbered serigraphs became collectible, Nagel commenced painting on canvas in 1982 and designing limited-edition bronze sculptures beginning that same year. He produced only 80 canvas pieces. Only two bronze editions, Carol and Standing Lady, ever made it out of the foundry. Each was limited to 180 pieces, however there is no documentation that quantity of either edition was ever actually released.

After his death in 1984, Nagel was survived by his wife, Jennifer Dumas, and his daughter from a previous marriage, Carol Ness.[7]

Nagel's manager, Karl Bornstein, attempted to continue publication of Nagel's works, but succeeded only in exploiting the brand and dramatically lowering its value. None of the Estate Collection, Playboy Collection or associated accumulations of his work featured Patrick Nagel's signature. Some were authenticated by his widow, but none were deemed to have collectible value. In 1991, the FBI discovered and dismantled a counterfeiting ring which flooded the market with forged serigraphs.[8] By 1996, most of Nagel's work had been dismissed as dated and almost worthless, prompting up to 70% to be discarded, damaged or destroyed.

In 2008, there came renewed interest in Nagel's work, with many of his surviving collectible pieces regaining and eventually exceeding their former value. In 2017, his Japanese canvas version of Duran Duran's Rio album cover broke an all time record, selling for US$212,000.


Nagel would start with a photograph and work down, always simplifying and removing elements that he felt were unnecessary. The resulting image would look flat, but emphasized those elements that he felt were most important. There has been much discussion about from where Nagel drew his style, however, since little is known about Nagel's art background, there is no definite answer as to the sources of his stylistic inspiration.

According to Elena G. Millie, curator of the poster collection at the Library of Congress:

Like some of the old print masters (Toulouse-Lautrec and Bonnard, for example), Nagel was influenced by the Japanese woodblock print, with figures silhouetted against a neutral background, with strong areas of black and white, and with bold line and unusual angles of view. He handled colors with rare originality and freedom; he forced perspective from flat, two-dimensional images; and he kept simplifying, working to get more across with fewer elements. His simple and precise imagery is also reminiscent of the art-deco style of the 1920s and 1930s- its sharp linear treatment, geometric simplicity, and stylization of form yield images that are formal yet decorative.[9]

Some have made the connection that he was influenced by Japanese style art, but there are no significant links connecting Nagel to Japanese artistry. In fact, his mapmaking experiences in Vietnam did more to steer him even further into high contrast imagery than anything else.[10]

The Nagel Woman

The "Nagel woman" was developed over time[specify] and increased in popularity after Nagel began publishing his work with Playboy. The concept is reportedly derived from important female figures in Nagel's life, which includes his wives, mother, daughter, and a childhood friend.[11][better source needed] His figures tend to have black hair, bright white skin, full-lipped mouths, and distinctive eyes, which are often squared off in the later works.[citation needed] Nagel worked with many models, including Playboy Playmates Cathy St. George, Tracy Vaccaro and Shannon Tweed, and also painted several celebrity portraits, including those of Joan Collins and Joanna Cassidy.[12]


Nagel was known to always have either a cigarette, martini or a bag of M&M's in hand. Due to his lifestyle, Nagel often stayed up long hours into the night and slept during the day. Some have speculated that Nagel was aware of his lifestyle's effect on his health and he was said to have tried to quit smoking not too long before his death. In 1984, at the age of 38, Nagel participated in a 15-minute celebrity "aerobathon" to raise funds for the American Heart Association. After much confusion and wondering of his whereabouts, he was found dead in his car outside the aerobics studio having suffered a myocardial infarction.[13] A further autopsy revealed that Nagel had a congenital heart defect that went undetected his entire life.[14]

Against his parents' wishes and through no direction attributable to him, Patrick Nagel was cremated and his ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean.[citation needed]

In popular culture

  • In the Vertigo comics series The Sandman, written by Neil Gaiman, the character Desire of The Endless is generally illustrated to resemble a Nagel print, specifically the portrait used for the Rio album cover.
  • In the Xavier: Renegade Angel episode "World of Hurt, BC" (2007), Xavier time travels to February 4, 1984, wherein one man announces that he just purchased a Nagel print. Another man then informs him that the artist had just died.
  • Nagel was portrayed on the American Dad! episode "Fart-Break Hotel" (2011).
  • The animated television series Moonbeam City (2015) borrowed heavily from Nagel for its character design and art style.
  • Rob Frankel published the only full biography on Patrick Nagel's life (2016).
  • Nagel's cover art for the Duran Duran album Rio appears prominently on a T-shirt owned by Tony Stark and worn by Dr. Bruce Banner(Mark Ruffalo) in the film Thor: Ragnarok (2017).


  1. ^ "The Art of Patrick Nagel"ISBN 0-912383-36-4
  2. ^ The Artist Who Loved Women: The Incredible life and work of Patrick Nagel, the most successful & anonymous American artist of the 1980s ISBN 9780967991214
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Think It Over (Cissy Houston album)
  7. ^ Upi (1984-02-10). "Patrick Nagel". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-09-29.
  8. ^ The Artist Who Loved Women
  9. ^ The Life and Art of Patrick Nagel from
  10. ^ [The Artist Who Loved Women] from
  11. ^ The Life and Art of Patrick Nagel from
  12. ^ {The Artist Who Loved Women} The Artist Who Loved Women
  13. ^ UPI (February 10, 1984). "Patrick Nagel Obituary". The New York Times.
  14. ^ The Artist Who Loved Women

External links

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