Pin-Ups or Pop Art

The Paintings of Gil Elvgren

It is his edge that brings him into the realm of fine art. American pin-up artists, most notably Elvgren, have been called “the original Pop artists, speaking to the cultural moment.”

In the early 1970s, Brown & Bigelow (B&B), a publishing company specializing in promotional products, sold off much of the original art used to illustrate its calendars, scratch pads, matchbooks, and other ephemeral products. B&B had initially found success employing popular artists such as Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish, but subsequently became best known for publishing "pin-up" calendars by artists such as Rolf Armstrong, Gil Elvgren, Earl Moran, and Zoë Mozert. With their depictions of glamorous models, movie stars, bathing beauties, and always fashionable but often provocatively dressed women, the pin-up artists captured the zeitgeist of the 1940s and 1950s. When tastes changed in the 1960s, this style of work fell out of favor and was replaced by more graphic and largely photographic imagery. Unaware of the future value of the original illustrations, B&B sold off hundreds of oil paintings and pastels from the company archives. By chance, I was living in St. Paul, Minnesota, the home of Brown & Bigelow, and was offered the opportunity to purchase a collection of work by Gil Elvgren. Enlisting the financial assistance of a college friend, Al Ravitz, we went ahead and gambled on these beautiful paintings.

Gil Elvgren

Gillette (Gil) Elvgren was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1914. After high school he studied architecture at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts before shifting his focus to art. He relocated to Chicago and enrolled at the American Academy of Art graduating in 1936. Around the same time he began painting pin-ups for the publisher Louis F. Dow, and many of his works were reproduced on military aircraft during World War II. Shortly after graduating, Elvgren found steady work as an artist for the prestigious advertising agency, Stevens and Gross working with Haddon Sundblom who would become his mentor and good friend. In 1944 Elvgren started working exclusively for Brown & Bigelow producing imagery for advertising and calendars, a partnership that would last nearly 30 years.

From working with important clients such as Coca-Cola and General Electric, to illustrating stories in publications such as Good Housekeeping, Redbook and The Saturday Evening Post, Elvgren established himself as one of the greatest in the field. A fine painter and excellent draftsman, his work portrayed the American dream through depictions of the comfort and convenience of the modern American lifestyle. Featuring idyllic family imagery to glamour girls and pin-ups, his work was widely distributed and popular both within the United States and with American soldiers abroad. Today, his work is being defined outside of its commercial value and Elvgren stands out as one of the most important pin-up artists of the 20th century.

Auction Results Gil Elvgren