The Art of Gil Elvgren

 Gil Elvgren (1914 - 1980) may not be a name you know well, but it is almost certain you have seen some of his fabulous work. He was a prolific commercial artist that produced illustration for calendars and advertising, working with oils on canvas the resultant paintings are truly magnificent. Nothing demonstrates the glamour of the 1950's more than Evlgren's wonderful illustrations. His work depicted beautiful women in an American utopia where everything was just fine. 

The illustrations were primarily for advertising and calendars and as such were intended to depict someone the viewer found attractive and perhaps aspired to. He did some nudes but most of his output depicted women in beautiful clothes, with fantastic hair and makeup. These were true glamour pinups that teased the viewer, sometimes a little bit saucy and often showing a touch more than a girl would want to reveal. Ladies in their underwear were also frequent subjects with the lingerie superbly painted. His method of work was to pose the model in the position he wanted, often with props to help, and then take a photograph. Elvgren then worked from a black and white print. This enabled him to dispense with unnecessary detail and concentrate on the subject. These are not portraits in the accepted sense, more illustrations using the model as inspiration. Often legs would be longer an more trimmed, waists would be smaller, the resultant image a true 'pinup'. Elvgren was very particular, he insisted the model wear the correct shoes, apparently having a large stock of shoes in his studio, as he believed they were vitally important the finished image. 

Today many would say these images belittle and exploit women, some would find them offensive. But they were of a time, the women were always beautiful, perhaps showing slightly more of a stocking top than was normal behaviour, but always done with class and almost dignity. I find the clothing was particularly well reproduced with that 50's elegance so lacking today, complete with slips and petticoats that look almost real. Elvgren's images may have been from a time long ago, but they are very popular, a number of books have been written on the subject and the original art works are much sought after by collectors. One of my favourites is 'One for the Money' painted in 1954, the way he painted the beautiful dress and slip is lovely, yes she is showing a touch too much stocking top, but she still looks beautiful and elegant. It was sold a while ago for $47,500 at auction. One of the rare nudes he painted 'Gay Nymph' form 1947 is, as far as I know the most expensive Gil Elvgren painting making $286,800 at auction. Incidentally when researching Elvgren on the net, one web site insisted on calling the painting "Merry Nymph' completely confusing the meaning of 'Gay' in 1947 with the meaning most associated with the word today! 

Art work by Gil Elvgren - public domain 


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