The first illustrated plus size pin up girl.
The Pin Up Girl
Before we talk about the curvy, swervy, plus-size-bikini-clad Hilda, the stage is going to be set with a little history of the pin up girl. I’ll take you back in time now, with a short story about a few of the most talented and popular Pin Up illustrators in American history.
Earl Christy, (1883-1961)
We’ll begin with the prolific Earl Christy, who’s porcelain-doll-like illustrations appeared on everything from Hollywood magazine covers and commercial advertisements to sheet music and postcards. His work can be found going back as early as 1906. His movie posters and covers he painted for “Photoplay” and other Hollywood magazines are now valuable collector items.
Earl Moran (1893-1984)
Earl Moran’s artistic genius appeared on everything from Sears and Roebuck catalogs to Life magazine and millions of Brown and Bigelow Calendars. How he’s remembered most is through his pin ups. Moran’s stunningly rendered pastel “visions” offer more situational variety than any other major illustrator. Of his most enduring legacies are his 1940s paintings of a breathtaking young model named Norma Jean Baker. He painted more images of her than any other artist.
Rolf Armstrong (1889-1960)
Rolf Armstrong was another famous Brown and Bigelow calendar artist. After arriving home from a trip to France in 1919, he opened a studio in Greenwich Village where he painted the Ziegfeld Folly girls. Later, while in Hollywood, all the great stars of the era posed for him. Popular actresses like Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn were all painted by him. He even talked Boris Karloff into posing for him on the set of the original “Frankenstein”.
He refused to work from photographs and was always on the quest for the perfect model. When asked why he preferred a live model over a photograph, he said, “I want the living person in front of me. As I look at her again and again and again while I work, I get a thousand fresh, vivid impressions… all the glow, exuberance, and spontaneous joy that leaps from a young and happy heart.”
Armstrong’s pastel pin ups of his idealized, scantily clad,”girl next door” have a distinctive, luminous and shimmering quality to them. His paintings of healthy, nubile young women are some of the most memorable of all the famous illustrators. He was truly a man of rarefied talent.
George Petty (1894-1975)
The Pin Up finally exploded into the popular culture with Esquire Magazine’s introduction of s”Petty Girl” in 1933. Slender, flirtatious and extremely shapely, the Petty Girl became an American institution, capturing our hearts and minds for more than twenty years. From 1933 to 1956, her images were seen in tens of millions of places; every where from magazines and billboards to playing cards and match books, even aircraft “nose art” in WWII. In 1950, she was made into a movie starring Robert Cummings and Elsa Lanchester.
Gil Elvgren (1914-1980)
No pin up gallery is complete without displaying the breathtaking talent of Gil Elvgren. His enchanting, dreamy renderings of the nubile female form cannot be eclipsed in genius by any other artist. He was sublimely talented! A student of the Minneapolis Art Institute, he liked to paint girls who were new to the modeling business. He believed the ideal pin up was a girl with a fifteen year old face on a twenty year old body, so he combined the two. During the forty two years spanning 1930-1972, he produced over five hundred paintings of beautiful young women, nearly all painted on oil and canvas. Today, his fully developed, finished works of art are second only in value to the paintings of Alberto Vargas.
Alberto Vargas (1896-1982)
The most prolific and famous glamor illustrator of all time is Alberto Vargas. The son of Max Vargas, a famous and talented photographer in his own right, Alberto learned to airbrush from his father before he was a teen. Most don’t realize he was actually born in Peru, and didn’t come to the US until 1916. He arrived on Ellis Island via Europe, where he had been since 1911. While there, he had studied in both Geneva and Zurich, and by the time had made his way here, he was already a gifted talent coming into bloom. Within three years he had hung his own shingle and was painting store fronts and window displays for New York City merchants.