When I think “pin-up” I think of the traditional illustrated sex symbol of the 40’s and 50’s … those beautiful women who graced advertising, calendars, magazines and dime
store novels. These girls always had perfect posture, expressive faces and curves that
presented the female form at its best.
The origin of the pin-up can be traced to the beginning of the 20th century, a
time when sexuality was suppressed. Early pin-ups were used to promote the burlesque theaters portraying scantily
clad ladies as an art form. Magazines like “The Police Gazette” illustrated stories of murder and mayhem by showing the leading ladies in
various states of undress ... considered to be completely legitimate by the
The rest is history as talents like Alberto Vargas, Rolf Armstrong and Gil
Elvgren created oil paintings from life to be used commercially. Some featured the “dropped panty”, others expressions of steamy sexuality, but all portrayed women as beautiful,
perfectly shaped and usually promoting products like cigarettes, cars, tools
Gil Elvgren (1914-1980) painted 30 x 24 oil on canvas and his heroines were
often caught in humorous but distressing situations. His exquisite oils of
gorgeous girls next door often featured skirts blowing up to reveal lovely
Alberto Vargas (1896-1982) was perhaps the most celebrated pin-up artist who
began his career working for Esquire magazine. This opportunity brought Vargas notoriety and additional work. His
beauties caught the eye of Hugh Hefner and
Vargas became the premiere artist for Playboy magazine in 1960. He created 154 works for the publication, his artwork ladies appearing monthly.
Vargas also did a great deal of work for Hollywood movie posters and was
commissioned by Hellmann's Mayonnaise to paint movie star portraits to be used
in their advertising campaigns.
Rolf Armstrong (1889-1960) established a studio in Greenwich Village and started
to paint Ziegfeld Follies girls. During the 1920s and 1930s, his work appeared on countless pieces of sheet music
as well as on the front covers of mainstream theatre and film magazines. All
the great stars posed for his glamorous portraits including Mary Pickford,
Greta Garbo, Marlena Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn. RCA hired Armstrong in
1930 to paint pin-ups to advertise their products and in 1943, Armstrong joined
Earl Moran, Zoë Mozert, and Norman Rockwell as the guest artists at a War Advertising
Conference in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Like many of his contemporaries, Armstrong painted from life always using a
And this was not an all-boys club at all as there were quite a few women pin-up
artists including Joyce Ballentyne, Pearl Frush and Zoë Mosert. Ballantyne was most famous for her 1946 Coppertone illustration showing
a young girl at the beach with her bottom pulled down by her dog. This image is now an American icon.
After World War II, the popularity of pin-up was at an all-time high. Every G.I.
had a pin-up of Betty Grable in his locker and photographers
began to have a real impact on the pin-up craze.