Early American Pin-Up Artists - The Lady Unleashed
By Daylen D on 9/17/2012
The provocative pin-up girls that we know today actually began as fictitious drawings by daydreaming artists. The peep-show legacy all started with Charles Gibson’s illustrations depicting the “ideal woman”. The Gibson Girl - idolized by women and men of the early 20th century - was both a socialite and a homemaker. This was an early glimpse of what has evolved to be the American sex symbol.
Much like the familiar Barbie doll, the Gibson Girl was presented in alluring poses while doing a variety of activities. She might be attending up-scale events, cleaning around the house, or even relaxing on the beach with her friends. The sultry air about her implied a change in the gender power structure. Her strength was sexy and therefore her behavior was perceived as daring, if not controversial. These were times when overt sexuality was frowned upon. The fantasy lifestyle of the Gibson Girl exuded confidence and led to even racier drawings of burlesque-style stripteases which became later known as pin-ups.
After the Gibson regime, George Petty became popular for his fantastical portrayals. We can thank Petty for elevating the pin-up craze by revealing more skin on scantily clad women. Petty girls of the 30s always had tight waists, curvy hips and perfectly round breasts. Not surprisingly, he eventually teamed with Esquire in creating the first-ever magazine centerfold. However, he became most famous for his signature calendar girls.
Alberto Vargas however was the pin-up artist who probably inspired the future work of Norman 'Sailor Jerry' Collins when he was enlisted. During WWII, Varga Girls could be found painted on the outside of military aircrafts usually toward the cockpit. "Nose art" became a fun distraction and helped build a sense of camaraderie within squads. They reminded men of their wives, girlfriends, and favorite American actresses. Vargas’ drew more realistic women in an idealized light. Some of his most recognized clients include Olive Thomas and Billie Burke. During drawing sessions, his live models often did stripteases using sheer blankets, feathers, or flowers to shield themselves.
Gil Elvgren’s pin-up artwork introduced a cute innocence to the art form. His illustrations are best described as the peek-a-boo style of pin-up; the women were always getting into “shenanigans” that accidentally revealed themselves. Whoops! Many other illustrators of the mid-19th century made a name for themselves through their pin up drawings. For more information on pin-up history check out the PinUpPortal and PinUpPassion websites.