There has never been a time when the female figure wasn't the subject of art. What distinguishes Pin-up Art from the rest is the very reason it soared to popularity during a time that made its existence possible. The hallmark of Pin-up Art is that it portrays contemporary women (and, eventually, men) baring just the right amount of skin to be deemed suitable for both mass production and public display.

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Pin-up Art as Narrative Art

Maria Elena Buszek, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Art History

University of Colorado Denver

Featured Works

  • Rolf Armstrong

    Bio

    Rolf Armstrong

    1889-1960

    Michigan-born pin-up artist Rolf Armstrong studied at The Art Institute of Chicago. During the 1920s and 1930s, Armstrong's work appeared on countless pieces of sheet music as well as on the covers of popular theatre and film magazines. All the stars of the silver screen posed for him, including Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn. His most popular subject was Jewel Flowers, a model he painted for decades and who was so popular during World War II that a letter addressed simply to "Jewel Flowers, New York City" would find its way to her.

  • Enoch Bolles

    Bio

    Enoch Bolles

    1883-1976

    Several of American pin-up artist Enoch Bolles' subjects had such youthful faces they resembled children, contrasting their mature figures. His oil paintings of adventurous and spirited women were featured on the covers of many magazines, including Film Fun and Screen Romances. Bolles became the exclusive artist for Film Fun in 1923 and contributed 200 covers until the magazine folded in 1943, a casualty of the Postmaster General's campaign against “salacious” material. He also illustrated the first advertisement for Zippo lighters, an unsigned work that is often misattributed to Andrew Vargas.

  • Al Buell

    Bio

    Al Buell

    1910 - 1996

    Al Buell was among the celebrated pin-up artists who contributed to Esquire's “Gallery of Glamour” which began in 1946. Buell decided to become an artist after venturing from Oklahoma to attend classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and visiting New York City. His illustrations were featured in many mainstream magazines like Redbook and McCalls, and he also illustrated advertisements in the 1940s and 1950s, most notably for Coca-Cola.

  • Gil Elvgren

    Bio

    Gil Elvgren

    1914-1980

    Born Gillette Elvgren in Saint Paul, Minnesota, pin-up artist Gil Elvgren was a commercial success, with clients ranging from from Brown & Bigelow and Coca-Cola to General Electric and Sealy Mattress Company. In addition, his illustrations appeared in many magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post and Good Housekeeping. Rather than sultry femme fatales, Elvgren’s pin-ups were the quintessential girl-next-door archetypes. He studied at the American Academy of Art in Chicago.

  • Earl Moran

    Bio

    Earl Moran

    1893-1984

    Earl Moran was an an American pin-up and glamour artist who studied at The Art Institute of Chicago. In 1932, Moran signed an exclusive contract with Brown and Bigelow, and by 1937, his pinups had sold millions of calendars for the company. In 1940, Life magazine catapulted Moran to national celebrity when it featured his work. In the1940s, a young model named Norma Jean Dougherty wanted to pose for Moran; he and Marilyn Monroe were to become lifelong friends.

  • George Petty

    Bio

    George Petty

    1894-1975

    Pin-up artist George Petty’s interest in art came to him early in life, and he took night classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts when he was just a high school student. He is best known for the “Petty Girl” series he painted for Esquire Magazine. Petty’s gatefold format originated and popularized the use of centerfolds—the long and lithe figures of his models crossing page barriers. His modest models were frequently pictured talking on the phone, unaware of their appeal. Petty’s work was wildly popular with American World War II fighters and one of his pinups was used as “nose art” for a famed Boeing B17 aircraft, the “Memphis Belle.”

  • Alberto Vargas

    Bio

    Alberto Vargas

    1896-1982

    Perhaps the best-known pin-up artist of all time, Peruvian painter Alberto Vargas moved to the United States in 1916. First employed retouching photography, his artistic work was primarily watercolor and airbrush—its lustrous quality reinforcing his signature style of the idealized and subtly sensual woman. Vargas was hired by Esquire magazine following George Petty’s departure. He subsequently worked for Playboy for 16 years and painted over 150 “Vargas Girls” for the publication.

Lucas Museum of Narrative Art