John LaGatta was an artist known to blend the glamour, extravagance, and sensual atmosphere of 1920s haute couture with the realistic scenes of American life. His March 22, 1941 cover for The Saturday Evening Post does just that. ”Late Night Snack” keeps the high-class party going into the wee hours of the morning at a simple American diner.
Unlike the quiet, demure insomniacs of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, LaGatta shows two partygoers out of their element, enjoying the remnants of their fun-filled night in a low-key restaurant at 2:23a.m. (depending on how one reads the clock’s thick brushstrokes).
One wouldn’t think the tails-and-top-hats crowd would so eagerly enjoy a late-night hamburger and cup of coffee at a local dive, but all that drinking and dancing can work up anyone’s appetite.
At the tail end of The Great Depression, the bubble of Gatsby-esque extravagance had long since burst. The average American of the 1940s might not grab a late night bite in gala attire, but people still got dolled up for events; dates that might’ve ended with a post-midnight snack in the neighborhood burger shack.
Thus, The Saturday Evening Post readership–and all Americans really–can relate to this cover on realistic terms while at the same time romanticizing the glamour of the party they imagine the subjects have just left. It’s relatable even if the painting idealizes the unfamiliar, like a never-ending, “old Hollywood”-era affair.
The woman in the painting eats with some sense of unfamiliarity, a mix of not wanting to ruin her lipstick and maybe not knowing how to properly eat a hamburger. Her fashionable sleeves are rolled up, showing how ready she is to bite into this American classic.
The work’s color scheme is highly contrasted to make the scene pop with activity. The reds of her jacket and fingernails, along with the ketchup bottle, draw the eyes to the center of the painting and cause the moment of taking a bite to jump off the page.
The gentleman’s eyebrows raise in anticipation of her reaction, as do her own. This may be the couples’ first time getting a burger together, so they’ll make sure to savor the as yet untested American treat.
LaGatta does a magnificent job of mixing his famous, extravagant style with down-home Americana. He painted many covers for the Post, all including beautiful, graceful women. His depictions were never explicitly sexual. Rather, they were as some critics have called them, “frank admirations of beauty.”