1000 Books In 10 Years: Vol. 214: The Great American Pin-Up, by Charles G. Martignette and Louis K. Meisel

Gil Elvgren

Gil Elvgren

The Great American Pin-Up, by Charles G. Martignette and Louis K. Meisel is a fabulous collection of classic pin-up art from the 1930’s-1960’s.  The book opens with an argument situating the artists, who were often demeaningly referred to as ‘illustrators’ by those in the art world, as deserving as a legitimate place in the pantheon of great American artists.  The art world can be largely esoteric and cast off work done for hire as unworthy of a place in a gallery, though ironically enough most artists hope to sell their paintings and get enough off of them to live comfortably.  Such fortune is limited to a select few, and many of the most talented artists either end up doing work for hire, or find another career path.  The fact that many of these paintings were done on commission does not make their talent any less deserving of admiration though.  For centuries artists made their living from doing commissions, usually portraits of the wealthy, and still such works have found their ways into many galleries, despite the fact that they are, in many cases, simply a renaissance version of a family picture (I doubt the photographers are Sear will see their photographs hanging up in galleries 300 years from now, though their renaissance counter parts have be given that privilege).  Pin-up art though is a far cry from typical works based on commission.  Artists were given little criteria.  They were simply told to paint beautiful women.  The clothes (or lack thereof), situations and narratives present in the paintings were entirely up to the discretion of the artists, and so there were a great many choices left to the artists.  Some artists simply mastered the craft, others managed to include commentary, though such commentary is not always as overt as it is in the work of say, Norman Rockwell, who shares a place with these ostracized masters of pin-up as being deemed simply as an ‘illustrator’ by those who praise instead the likes of Andy Warhol.

Harry Ekman

Harry Ekman

After the discourse in matters of art appreciation, the authors then proceed to offer brief biographies on a numbers of the prominent pin-up artists of the 20th century, as well as a sample of their work.  Among them: Gil Elvgren, Alberto Vargas, Zoe Mozert, Pearl Frush, and a host of others (though notably absent from the collection is Ernest Chiriacka).  The book even offers translations within the text (though I’m not sure which languages they are).  As is the case with most books from Taschen, it is affordable and beautiful and worth picking up.  Below are a few samples of the work featured in the collection. Enjoy!

Harry Ekman

Harry Ekman

Alberto Vargas: This is one of few pin-up works featuring a model of colour, though this one is not featured in the book reviewed.

Alberto Vargas: This is one of few pin-up works featuring a model of colour, though this one is not featured in the book reviewed.

Pearl Frush

Pearl Frush

Zoe Mozert was one of three female artists featured in the book reviewed, and also served as her own best model.

Zoe Mozert was one of three female artists featured in the book reviewed, and also served as her own best model.

Gil Elvgren

Gil Elvgren

Gil Elvgren

Gil Elvgren

Gil Elvgren

Gil Elvgren

 

Mozert1

Ernest Chiriacka was sadly not included in the book reviewed.

Ernest Chiriacka was sadly not included in the book reviewed.

Alberto Vargas

Alberto Vargas

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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