Monday, August 24, 2009

Original Gil Elvgren Studio Pin-Up Reference Photos

In the world of "pin-up," the most celebrated artist is arguably Gil Elvgren, master illustrator often called the Norman Rockwell of Pin-Up Artists. His paintings were much more thematic than the muted, airbrushed world of the Vargas pin-up. While the Vargas pin-ups were usually painted on a single-color background with few to no "props," the Elvgren pin-ups were full of bright colors with more action elements including strategically props with which the pin-ups interacted. They pop with life and, although there is no denying that Vargas was also a great artist, the Elvgren pin-ups are more evocative of the era in which they were painted.

What I've posted here is two examples of original Elvgren studio pin-up photographs from our collection. Elvgren photographed his models in his studio, and then painted from the reference pictures, admittedly idealizing the actual features of the models. Elvgren did not like to paint from life and preferred these still photos for reference, perhaps because he did not want to get too "stuck" on what the model really looked like. These photos were purchased from the collection of Elvgren apprentice pin-up painter Donald "Rusty" Rust. What's splendid about them is that they retain so much character. Many of the photos we obtained still have tape from being adhered to Elvgren's easel and some even have splotches of his paint. The identity of the models shown here is not known, but prominent Elvgren models included Arlene Dahl, Myrna Loy, Myrna Hansen, Donna Reed, Kim Novak, and Barbara Hale. The witch painting is titled "Riding High" (1959) and the bannister painting is titled "Look Out Below" (1956).


  1. What an extraordinary archive. (Donna Reed!) Very nice!
    Dull Tool Dim Bulb

  2. We really lucked out in acquiring these. I'll post more in the future-- its so much fun to compare the original photo with the finish painting.

  3. I'm really curious about the model for the 1960 "Help Wanted" painting. Do you have that photograph and model information?

  4. Hmmm...I don't recall off hand if we have that one. We own about 80 different Elvgren photos. I have some memory of that image being Myrna Hansen. I'll look into it and see if that's something I can verify.