Pin-up artwork, in the form of calendars and advertising, goes back as far as mid 19th century burlesque, and continued on to become one of the most significant forms of advertising, encompassing some of the most influential media images of the last century.
Tracking the history of pin-up art, as it became more mass produced, more widespread, and more sexualised, provides a poignant history of the changing ideals of beauty, taste, and acceptability in the Western world.
History and Description
The roots of pin-up art can be traced back to the activities of burlesque actors and performers of the nineteenth century, as they began to realise the benefits of advertisement and produced business cards featuring photographs or drawings to promote themselves. These cards were left in venues, passed around, and pinned-up.
Into the twentieth century the illustrations of Charles Dana Gibson depicting feminine ideals suggested that there could be a unified standard notion of beauty, erotic through their ordinariness, and gave way to a freedom to draw women in new ways. Thus the images of women known as ‘pin-up girls’ began to emerge in the 1920s.
The pre-war pin-up girls by the likes of Alberto Vargas were idolised for a pure kind of beauty. However, during the Second World War, women in these images came to be depicted in more sexualised positions, dressed in military style costumes and posed in seductive manners. These were often seen by soldiers as good luck tokens, and much treasured.
Controversy surrounding the images arose with the feminist movement, with fierce examination of depictions of women, their effect on body image, and a rebellion against notions of being owned by men causing pin-up art to move from a respectable form of art and advertisement to becoming illicit and pornographic.
As well as protestors believing these images were immoral and overly sexualised, there were also supporters of Pin-up depictions of women, viewing them as a healthy rejection of Victorian repression and shame and an embracing of feminine beauty.
List of Notable Pin-up Artists
- Gil Elvgren
- Alberto Vargas
- George Petty
- Rolf Armstrong
- Zoe Mozert
- Earl Moran
Guide for Collectors
Places specialising in the acquisition and sale of vintage pin-up art include:
- Heritage Auctions, and Heritage Auction Galleries, the world’s third largest auction house
- ROGallery.com, New York
- Mid-Hudson Auction Galleries, Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York
- Dirk Soulis Auctions, Lone Jack
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