CULTURE & ARTS
10/06/2014 04:01 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Glamorous History Of Pin-Up, From Kitsch To Commercial To Fine Art

In "The Art of Pin-up," Dian Hanson describes a pin-up simply as a "provocative but never explicit image of an attractive woman created specifically for public display in a male environment."

But this imaginary female isn't just attractive. "Her sexiness is natural and uncontrived, and her exposure is always accidental: A fishhook catches her bikini top, an outboard motor shreds her skirt, a spunky puppy trips her up or the ever-present playful breeze lifts her hem, revealing stocking tops and garter straps, but never the whole enchilada."

Since they skyrocketed to popularity in the World War II era, pin-up images have occupied a variety of roles -- military inspiration, commercial photography, kitsch nostalgia and cult aesthetic. But the images of buxom hips and red lips rarely fall into the category of fine art. Which is rather unfortunate.

pin
By Enoch Bolles

Taschen's newest work of bound eye candy, titled "The Art of Pin-up," explores the work of ten major pin-up artists, delving into the histories that inspired their salacious artwork. The erotic compendium features images created from 1920 to 1970, largely sourced from original publications -- a rarity for pin-up literature. "I bought every pin-up book there was," Hanson explained to The Huffington Post, "and there have been many books done on pin-ups and all of them done from poor original sources, from calendars, magazine centerfolds and bad scans."

"Then there came a man named Charles Martignette; he had over 4,000 pieces. So much of the material of this kind had been destroyed by publishers and calendar makers because they owned it outright. Because of the frivolous nature of this material, that it was something meant to entertain men, they didn't see it as having any value. Even when the originals were large oil paintings they didn't see them as having any intrinsic value."

nude
By Gil Elvgren (c) Brown & Bigelow

The idealized images, sexual without being graphic, are a delicious throwback to simpler times, when a naked woman wasn't just a click away. The arguably feminist images also scream of women's liberation at its earliest stages. And while ogling attractive females isn't really anything new, examining the brushstrokes that made them is surprisingly recent.

"This one man was able to gather up most everything and package it away and put it in storage units down in Florida where no one could see it. When he died in 2008, this collection was dispersed and suddenly all this pin-up art came on the market and could be photographed, could be seen, could be spread around. It was a tragic thing for him -- he died young -- but it was a wonderful thing for pin-up art and all its appreciators and collectors. This book really documents that dispersion -- of being able to see the original materials for the first time and make a book that treated it like fine art."

Get a glimpse of the glam world of pin-ups below and head to Taschen's website to learn more.

  •  By Alberto Vargas (c) the Max Vargas Collection
    By Alberto Vargas (c) the Max Vargas Collection
  • By Rolf Armstrong (c) Brown & Bigelow
    By Rolf Armstrong (c) Brown & Bigelow
  • By Earl Moran (c) Brown & Bigelow
    By Earl Moran (c) Brown & Bigelow
  • By Peter Driben
    By Peter Driben
  • By Earl Moran
    By Earl Moran
  • By Joyce Ballantyne
    By Joyce Ballantyne
  • By Art Frahm
    By Art Frahm
  • By Bill Medcalf
    By Bill Medcalf
  • By Edward Runci
    By Edward Runci
  • By Zoe Mozert. Mitchell Mehdy Collection
    By Zoe Mozert. Mitchell Mehdy Collection
  • Zoe Mozert painting Jane Russell for The Outlaw film poster
    Zoe Mozert painting Jane Russell for The Outlaw film poster
  • By George Petty, courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York, and the 
George Petty estate
    By George Petty, courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York, and the George Petty estate
HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

PHOTO GALLERY
More Betty Page Photos (NSFW)
CONVERSATIONS