Pin-up Art – Still Alive & Kicking
by Deborah Tirico
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 public.

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 and beverages.

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 nylon-clad limbs.

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 model.

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.  
But as the 1970’s approached, photography took over and most of the original pin-up artists were retired.

Today, advertising is experiencing a resurgence of this unique and effective illustration style.  As demonstrated in this 2004 coaster design created for Camel cigarettes, the genre of pin-up artistry lives on.
Kisses girl
So Adorable
“So Adorable” by Rolf Armstrong from the Brown and Bigelow Calendar - 1950
Joyce Ballantyne - 1955
Coppertone - 1946
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