Pin-up art refers to such mediums as paintings, drawings, and illustrations that feature women—glamour girls, models, and actresses. Pin-up art reached its zenith during 1940s; the term was first used in 1941 and referred to the act of “pinning up” the art to the wall. Pin-up art, however, actually began to be created as early as the 1890s (possibly even earlier) and many artists participated in the genre. In popular culture pin-up art is closely associated with the soldiers of WWII who were known to carry or pin up images of beautiful women on postcards, calendars, or magazines. Several artists, like Alberto Vargas, became quite famous for their pin-up art.
The hallmarks of pin-up art embody images of beautiful women and eroticism—which is not to be confused with pornographic images. Pin-up art was distinctly meant to be “pinned up” and not hidden. Pin-up art has its origins in the Golden Age of Illustration which corresponds with the late 1800s and early 1900s. Illustrators like Raphael Kirchner specialized in the illustration of women for both fashion magazines and postcards. The postcards and magazines became immensely popular with WWI soldiers. The Gibson Girls personify the image of early pin-up art during this period as well.
The genre exploded in popularity during WWII. Many pin-up subjects were celebrities who became some of the first sex symbols due to their mass-produced images which could be seen hung in bunkers or the lockers of soldiers. Pin-up art captured the era’s ideals of beauty and sexiness. Hourglass figures clad in sexy clothing—frequently flared up skirts– was a main trait of pin-up art during the forties. Also, whereas earlier pin-up art featured more demure women, the pin-up girls of the WWII era behaved far more provocatively and their sexuality was more explicit, yet still in the main stream. Some of the most popular pin-up girls of the 1940s were Rita Hayworth, Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and Betty Grable.
Pin-up art continued into the 1950s with such famed pin-up models as Bettie Paige and Marilyn Monroe. Soon, however, the artistically rendered illustrations gave way to the art of photography and mass-produced posters of women like Farah Fawcett largely replaced the illustrated genre. Some of pin-up art’s most famous artists, aside from those already mentioned, include Al Buell, Gil Elvgren, Art Frahm, Boris Vallejo, and Bill Medcalf. Vintage pin-up art is popularly collected today and books have been published to show the work of many great pin-up artists like Vargas. The artwork is today a testament to the styles of the era and an important reflection of the cultural past.