PINUP ARTIST BROUGHT PROVOCATIVE BEAUTY TO GIs
Gil Elvgren; calendar illustration; "Redheaded Elevator Operator," 1948, sold for $39,600. Photo courtesy of Illustration House
Gilette Elvgren has been called the Norman Rockwell of the “cheesecake” school of art. His ideal model had 15-year-old face and a 20-year-old body.
More like the girl next door than a femme fatale, Elvgren’s pin-up beauties could often be spotted in some kind of embarrassing tangle with an elevator door, gusting wind, or dog leash that somehow lifted their skirts and revealed just a hint of provocative bliss and…I think you get the picture.
Notice I said provocative, not pornographic. By today’s standards, Elvgren’s long-legged ladies were tame, and could still be called ladies.
Elvgren was a master of pin-up art, a storyteller without words. He made men thankful women were on the planet. He’s akin to Rockwell in that he painted the American dream. With or without clothes, Elvgren’s ladies could be your neighbors, and had that same well-scrubbed, naive look, Rockwell employed.
His girls may have been a fantasy, but there was always the chance you might actually meet one.
Pin-up art really flourished when American troops went overseas in the 1940s and ‘50s. The girl-next-door or movie starlet might show up on the nose of an airplane or hang on a locker door. Her flesh-and-blood beauty probably helped the troops get out of bed in the morning.
With her blonde curls stacked high, over-the-shoulder wink, bathing suit, and million dollar legs, Betty Grable was the top pin-up girl among GI’s during World War II.
Beginning in the late-1930s, Elvgren did girl-next-door calendar pin-ups for Louis F. Dow, a leading American publisher. In the early-1940s, Brown & Bigelow offered him $1,000 per pin-up, and he signed a contract to produce 20 calendar girls a year for them. The name Elvgren may not mean much to you, but you’ve probably seen (without knowing) some of the illustrations he did for Coca-Cola ads.
Before the days of fast, high-quality color photography, the only way magazines could display color pictures of movie stars was through paintings. Pin-up style pictures appeared in Life, Time, Look and Cosmopolitan.
But Esquire was known for its barefaced pin-ups. Esquire gave up nudity in 1960, and Playboy picked up where they left off and raised the bar in nudity.
Born in Minnesota in 1914, Elvgren was educated at The American Academy of Art in Chicago and died in 1980.
Pin-up art is a growing area in illustration. Top-artists include Rolf Armstrong, Alberto Vargas, George Petty, Zoe Mozert and Earl Moran.
What influences value?
Original works of art, not reproductions are what serious collectors want. The artist is important and the medium. Oils usually command more than pastels or gouaches, and size, subject matter and condition can make a big difference in value.
On May 5, Illustration House in New York City featured its sale of illustration art including pin-up art. Her are some current values.
Billy DeVorss; calendar illustration; pastel; “Just out of the shower;” signed; 23˝ by 16Ľ inches; $3,300.
Ted CoConis; magazine cover; graphite and acrylic; “Montage of Marilyn Monroe;” Liberty Magazine, 1973; signed; 16 by 18Ľ inches; $4,125.
Al Buell; calendar illustration; “Beautiful woman seated at bench;” Brown & Bigelow, 1959; signed; 30 by 24 inches; $5,500.
Rolf Armstrong; calendar illustration; pastel; “Saluting majorette,” Brown & Bigelow, 1946; signed; 31˝ by 25˝ inches; $15,400.
Gil Elvgren; calendar illustration; oil on canvas; “Redheaded elevator operator,” Brown & Bigelow, 1948; signed; 30 by 24 inches; $39,600.
Gil Elvgren; calendar illustration; oil on canvas; seated nude, “Corinne,” Brown & Bigelow, 1967; signed; 30 by 24 inches; $39,600.
Enoch Bolles; magazine cover; oil on canvas; “Standing woman in yellow;” Breezy Stories, March 1937; unsigned; 30 by 22 inches; $30,800.
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