In 1940 Elvgren adopted the technique of painting from a photograph rather than working from a live model. This allowed him to meticulously stage a scene in which he could build sets with various props to portray different subjects and scenarios and perfect the lighting of the models. Once he was pleased with the set up Elvgren would then photograph the scene and the posed model with a 2 ¼ Rollei.
As you can see from the photographs, although the stunning final illustrations are technically impressive and are an almost accurate portrayal of his models, Elvgren took a certain level of artistic license when it came to the distinctive feminine figures he created. When asked about his techniques, the artist described adding “touches” to every painting. This usually included lengthening the legs, building up the bust, pinching in the waist, adding a little more tilt and tip to the nose, making the eyes slightly larger and the mouth fuller. Dangerous Minds declares the Elvgren pin-up girls as “the original victims of photoshop”.
Gil Elvgren (1914-1980) is credited with being one of the most influential pin-up artists of the 20th century. The artistic skill he demonstrates combined with his natural ability to capture the imaginations of all those who view his illustrations has led to him be highly revered by artists and the public alike.
In 1933 he eloped with his high school sweetheart, Janet Cummins, who he would remain married to until her death in 1966. Elvgren attended the American Academy for Art before moving back to his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota and setting up his own studio. Much of Elvgren’s most famous pin-up works were created for the calendar company Brown & Bigelow, who he signed with in 1945. However, their first commission of Elvgren’s artistic talents came years before and was the polar opposite of his pin-up work – Brown & Bigelow asked him to paint two portraits of the Dionne Quintuplets (born in 1934, they were the first known quintuplets to have survived infancy and had created a media sensation in the United States).
The Bigger Picture
- Martignette, C.G. & Meisel, L.K., (1996) The Great American Pin-Up (Taschen).
- Martignette, C.G. & Meisel, L.K., (2008) Gil Elvgren: All his Glamorous American Pin-Ups (Taschen)