Our cover this month “Let’s Go Around Together” (29 in. by 24 in.) by Gil Elvgren, sold for $101,500 on April 11, 2013 at Heritage’s Signature Illustration Art Auction in Beverly Hills, Calif. Elvgren was one of the most notable pin-up artists of the mid-20th century, the form’s heyday.
The pin-up girl originated in the early 19th century. Actresses and burlesque performers would advertise their shows by distributing business card-sized photographs of themselves in provocative positions. By the 1930s, the form had become so accepted that major movie stars, such as Betty Grable, were featured in pin-up photographs and drawings publicizing their most recent projects.
It was at this time that Esquire magazine began to feature the art of Alberto Vargas, who used the conventions of the pin-up not as an advertisement, but as an artistic depiction of the idealized female form. Esquire’s “Vargas girls” became enormously popular. However, the true boom came during World War II, as military demand for the images became so intense that between 1942 and 1962, Esquire distributed over 9 million free copies of its magazine to soldiers stationed overseas and in domestic bases. Soldiers adopted the “Vargas girls” not only as sex symbols, but also as good luck talismans, going so far as to paint the images on the noses of their planes as patriotic symbols to ward off danger.