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March 15, 1914
Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States of America Died February 29, 1980
Siesta Key, Florida, United States of America Field Painting

Gil Elvgren (March 15, 1914 – February 29, 1980), born Gillette A. Elvgren in Saint Paul, Minnesota, was an american painter of pin-up girls, advertising and illustration. He was active from the 1930s to 1970s working for various advertising agencies and art companies. Today he is best known for his pin-up paintings, and for his influential style in illustration. Elvgren is often credited as one of the most important American illustrators, and sometimes regarded as the best pin-up girl painter, being called “the Norman Rockwell of cheesecake”.Elvgren started as a freelance illustrator in the mid 1930s, but soon was recruited by the Louis F. Dow Company, and later by Brown & Bigelow, for painting pin-up girls for their products. He was also working for the advertising agency Stevens & Gross under the direction and influence of his mentor Haddon Sundblom. Elvgren created artwork for Coca-Cola during 25 years in this collaboration, but also painted advertisement material for a wide range of companies, and also created accompanying illustrations for stories published in top-selling magazinesDuring his life he created roughly five hundred pin-up paintings, countless advertisement material, and achieved recognition from other artists, the companies he worked for, and the public in general, becoming a popular artist. He also had several apprentices in his studio, and helped other colleagues frequently. Elvgren is also mentioned as a great artistic influence in the field, both for many colleagues, and for other artists of the same time who tried to imitate Elvgren’s style.


Gillette A. Elvgren was born on March 15, 1914, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to Alex and Goldie Elvgren. His parents had a paint and wallpaper shop in downtown St. Paul. They soon noticed the drawing skills of his son, and after he graduated in University High School, he entered the University of Minnesota to study architecture and design, supported by his parents. But at the same time, he also attended at art classes at the Minneapolis Art Institute. During the year 1933 he took the decision of quitting the architecture career and paint professionally.That same year, he married Janet Cummings, his formal girlfriend since high school. At the beginning of 1934, the young couple moved to Chicago to attend the prestigious American Academy Of Art. One of his teachers was the artist Bill Mosby, who developed a close friendship with the young artist. Mosby guided Elvgren’s hard work and helped him evolve into a talented and skilled painter. Elvgren often took extra courses and painted in his free time to improve his skills, showing dedication in whatever could help him to become a great artist. He graduated only two years later, in almost half the normal time it took to graduate in the Academy.After two years of economical struggle, Elvgren and his wife went back to Saint Paul in 1936. Elvgren opened a studio and very soon received his first commission.

Elvgren’s first paid work was for a front cover for a fashion catalogue. His depiction of a man in elegant clothes was praised by the company’s president, and Elvgren was commissioned by more jobs immediately.Elvgren’s next assignment was an unexpected strike of luck. After being required to present his credentials to Brown & Bigelow, one of the world’s most important calendar companies, he was assigned two paintings of the famous Dionne Quintuplets. His paintings were published in 1937 and 1938, and the calendars were highly popular. He was very lucky to have been assigned such a job with the famous Quintuplets, but he was up to the task with his talent, as the numbers promptly proved. Brown & Bigelow had to pay around $60,000 in royalties to the Dionne Quintuplets, a number which tells about the huge popularity reached by these calendars. This single commission granted him notoriety not only in Brown & Bigelow, but also in front of potential job sources, and transformed him from an almost unknown painter into a widely known artist.Following the success of the first Quintuplets painting, he was approached in the beginning of 1937 by the Louis F. Dow Company, another calendar manufacturer also located in Saint Paul, and direct competition of Brown & Bigelow. He was offered to paint pin-up girls for Dow, and he accepted without hesitation. Dow would not only reproduce his works in calendars, but also in a wide array of products ranging from notepads to matchboxes. Elvgren created around 60 pin-up girls for Dow, which were later reused by being overpainted with different clothes and backgrounds.In 1938, Elvgren had his first child, a daughter called Karen. Elvgren was already working hard, not only for Dow, but also for many advertisement commissions. A better economic position made him decide to move to Chicago in 1940.After arriving to Chicago, he was approached by the advertising agency Stevens & Gross, and Elvgren eagerly signed for them, working as a fixed artist. There he met one of his main influences and also one of his most adm
ed artists, the reputed Haddon Sundblom. It was Sundblom the one who presented Elvgren’s talent to The Coca-Cola Company. As a result, Elvgren’s ads for Coca-Cola appeared next to Sundblom’s ones. His works for Coca-Cola lasted 25 years and spanned billboards, calendars, flyers and more.During his first months in Stevens & Gross, he was introduced to Andrew Loomis, one of his early influences. As a result of his meeting with Loomis, Elvgren agreed to teach art classes at the Academy during that fall.In 1942, his second child was born, named Gillette Jr. By then, the World War II brought him more advertising work, and inspired him some of his most famous works in the commercial field.

Weighty Problem (Starting at the Bottom) (1962), a pin-up illustration by Gil ElvgrenIn 1944, his third and last child was born, named Drake. That same year, Brown & Bigelow invited him to join the company as a permanent artist. Brown & Bigelow staff comprised some of the finest illustrators and pin-up painters of the time, like Rolf Armstrong, Earl Moran and Zoë Mozert. The recent birth of his son, and the suculent salary proposed, made him accept the offer.The terms of the agreement were an initial salary of $24,000 in the first year, for 18 to 20 pin-up girls per year, roughly one thousand dollars per pin-up. That made him one of the best paid pin-up artist of the time. Brown & Bigelow also asked for exclusivity; however this only applied to pin-up girls, and Elvgren continued working in the field of advertisements.His first works for Brown & Bigelow immediately became huge successes. It was while working for this company when Elvgren improved even further his style, starting with a new, stylised signature which became characteristic for the pin-up fans. According to many pin-up experts, Elvgren created his very best works in this part of his life. It’s his style, starting from this era, the style which made Elvgren famous for the public, and recognized by critics and colleagues. Elvgren created around 400 pin-up girls for Brown & Bigelow.In 1951, Elvgren moved with his family from downtown Chicago to the village of Winnetka. An advantageous new salary arrangement with Brown & Bigelow allowed him to build an studio in his own house. This allowed him to work in a better environment, and control even more the metodic processes he used for modelling and creation of his works.During 1953, Elvgren and his family went to Florida on vacation. In 1956 he convinced his family to move to this state, specifically to Siesta Key, where he built a new studio. It’s uncertain weather Elvgren took apprentices in his Chicago studio, but he took several young artist under his arm in his two-floor studio in Florida. He taught them not only the technicalities of painting, but also the appropriate way to face a specific assigment in the field of commercial illustration. Many of his disciples later became renowned artist by their own merits. In Florida, Elvgren had a stable life, with more jobs than he could achieve, and he was reaching the peak of his skills.

Despite his successful career, Elvgren was deeply struck by the death of his wife Janet in 1966 due to cancer. Elvgren dedicated himself totally to his work, creating the best art of his life during these years. He later dated Marjorie Shuttleworth, but never remarried.In 1970 he retired, and although he kept painting, as he did during all his life, most of his works of that era haven’t seen the light.At the age of seventy-five, Elvgren died on February 29, 1980 due to cancer, like his first wife.

There are several troubles when analyzing the works of Gil Elvgren:

  • Unavailability of date.
  • Multiple names.
  • Commercial advertisements were often unsigned.
  • Lack of sources except print magazines.
  • Repaints and overpaints.

Since Elvgren’s works were mainly in the field of commercial illustration, he could finish a work one year, being copyrighted in one or two years more, and then not being published until next year, or lay in stores until publication for even more time. There’s even one case where the painting for the commission got lost for years before being revealed to the public[citation needed].While this is true for his pin-up paintings and calendar commissions, illustrations for advertisement often reached publication in a short period of time.Another problem is the real names of the paintings. While Elvgren could name a painting of his, or suggest names for it, the naming was in total control of the copyright owners of the publishing companies. Some works were reproduced more than once, often giving them more alternate names. So while some paintings had one clear name, others have two, three or even more, often based just in the accompanying text which was printed with the pin-up.Advertisement artwork almost never had a name. On top of that, as a common request from the advertising company, these works were almost never unsigned either. This brings the trouble of identifying which advertisements were created by Elvgren, and which by other artists of the era from the same Sundblom School, or just by imitators of this style.Advertisement artwork is mostly found only in the printed magazines, sometimes in black & white, with the original source lost or unavailable. But for pin-up paintings, many original oil over canvas have been preserved by gallerists and collectors.One final problem is the fact that the Louis F. Dow Company sometimes repainted Elvgren’s works and released them as new creations, but still attributing authoring to Elvgren. This happened specially after Elvgren went to Brown & Bigelow and earned more fame than he had while working for Dow. Many of these repaints, sometimes called overpaints, were done by Vaughn Alder Bass, who was himself a skilled oil painter, and was up to the task on many times. An often made comparison is the Elvgren work A Perfect Pair, with the Bass repaint of the same name. Both attest the same style and quality. Unfortunately this means that sometimes it’s unknown whether a repaint was made by Elvgren by request, or it was an overpaint by Bass or some other artist.All these problems still happen for gallerists, fans, collectors and sellers of replica paintings. The galleries and sellers often list names for the paintings which are totally made up, maybe due to lack of knowledge, or sometimes due to repeated names. Even Brown & Bigelow Licensing, the copyright holder of many of Elvgren’s paintings, list incomplete or wrong names for many of them. Some works not made by Elvgren, but inaccurately attributed to him, are sold as genuine Elvgren artworks. Notably, a few works are only available in their “repainted” versions, but the original is nowhere to be found.But probably the worst problem is that many of the original oil paintings are lost, and only reproductions of them are available today. For advertisement works, the norm is to find only the result in a printed magazine, sometimes only in black and white.

While Elvgren is mainly known for his pin-ups for Brown & Bigelow, and to a lesser extent, for the pin-ups for the Louis F. Dow Company, he committed a countless amount of works for other contractors, sometimes through Brown & Bigelow, but mainly by his solid position at Steven & Gross.His advertisement works spanned many companies, to name a few: Coca-Cola, Pangburn’s Chocolates, Orange Crush, Pabst, Schlitz, Red Top Beer, Ovaltine, Royal Crown Soda, Frankfort Distilleries, Four Roses Blended Whisky, Campana Balm, General Tire, Sealy Mattress, Serta Perfect Sleep, Napa Auto Parts, Ditzler Automotive Finishes, General Electric Appliance, Ford, Studebaker, and many more.The illustration side of his works isn’t limited to exclusively advertising; he also created illustrations for stories published in some

of the most popular magazines of the era, for example: McCall’s, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Home Companion, Redbook, and Saturday Evening Post. On the top of Elvgren’s career, these magazines willingly waited up to a year to get the results of their commissions from Elvgren’s busy schedule.Elvgren was so popular, that he designed a letter opener with the shape of one of his pin-up girls, to be sold as a marketing product for gift. This creation circa 1948 was marked with the company’s logo, and then it could be used for promotion.

From the so-called “Dow era”, his most famous pin-up is A Perfect Pair (1940s), later repainted by Bass. This pin-up was the best sold work for Dow. Another important work was The High Sign (1942), this painting was so popular that it was the second pin-up that Dow wanted repainted by Bass.Just before Elvgren became part of Brown & Bigelow’s staff, he accepted a commission from Joseph C. Hoover and Sons. To not hinder his agreement with Brown & Bigelow, he requested that this creation would be unsigned, and not publitized as his work. The creation, called Dream Girl (1945), became the best-selling “evening gow” glamour girl from Hoover’s products. Hoover were so pleased with the result that they reused this pin-up in many ways during the next years, and asked Elvgren to do a complete line of pin-ups for them, but by that time, Elvgren was already committed with Brown & Bigelow.The very first work for Brown & Bigelow was Gay Nymph (1946), which was a nude girl in a flower field during the night. This pin-up became a huge success instantly, making Brown & Bigelow to create a special line of products to take advantage of the popularity of this painting.His next nude for Brown & Bigelow was Vision Of Beauty (1947), and reached the popularity of Gay Nymph very quickly, causing again a special line of products for this painting. Vision Of Beauty, while also being a nude, had a different style than of Gay Nymph, entering the field of fine-art due to its glamouristic composition and conservative treatment of the nudity.Nudes were very rare in Elvgren’s career, as he was usually allowed to do only one per year. But the classic pin-ups also proved to be a great success. One of the most prominent examples is He Thinks I’m Too Good to Be True (1948), also called She’s Perfect, Yes…, is one of Elvgren’s most famous and used pin-ups. It was reused for different calendar lines for several years, as well as licensed to other calendar makers of the time. It has also been used as a cover for several recent products related to Elvgren, such as the calendar line of 2007 by Taschen.While not popular, and sometimes even unpublished works, some of Elvgren’s private paintings are noteworthy. Eurasian Girl (1946) was a nude oil on canvas depicting a member of a ballet troupe visiting Chicago. This painting is quite away from Elvgren’s normal style, and again could be considered fine-art. Equally, his Formal Portrait Of Marjorie (undated) is a formal portrait of his wife done in a classical style. The last noteworthy of this kind of works is the painting called Still Life, also called Harem, unpublished until recently. It features the only known full frontal nude of Elvgren’s career, and several other unusual elements mixed with some of Elvgren’s sutile touches, like the bowl of fruit in front of all the composition.Elvgren said that his favourite pin-up painting is Mimi (1956), also called Sweet Dreams. The painting shows the actress Mara Corday.[1]

Before Elvgren attended his first art class, he already had interest in pin-ups and illustration. He kept a large archive of magazine pages and other illustrations, keeping any drawing or painting which caught his eye. Elvgren maintained this archive during his life, and biographers can keep track of his influences studying it. This archive had creations of many artists, some of them were from the “classic” era like Charles Dana Gibson, Howard Chandler Christy and Harrison Fisher, and others were contemporaneous like Haddon Sundblom, Andrew Loomis, Harvey Dunn and Joseph Christian Leyendecker.All these artists were influences during the first period of Elvgren’s trajectory. However, there were a few which were prominent in this influence. The classic artists Gibson, Christy and Fisher influenced his first pin-up works. Elvgren also mentioned trying to emulate the style of John Henry Hintermeister.Elvgren admired Leyendecker, from the time at the Chicago Academy Of Art. Elvgren used to visit the Art Institute to contemplate his student drawings. Dunn was also a particularly important influence judging by the amount of illustrations of him that he kept in his archives.Elvgren was also a follower of the Brandywine School’s philosophy of painting. It was founded by Howard Pyle, another early influence.Although already skilled and praised for his work, Elvgren was always trying to improve, and seeking new ways of creating the best possible artwork. Probably the largest direct influence in Elvgren’s style was Haddon Sundblom, who Elvgren met when entering Stevens & Gross. They developed a good relationship and became friends. Sundbloom took the young artist under his wing, teaching him new techniques and approaches to paintings, and fine-tuned his skills. Soon Elvgren was up-to-par with his mentor, and both are cited as the prominent examples of the Sundbloom’s Chicago School, also called “Mayonnaise School” due to the creamy and smooth look of their paintings.Another great influence in Elvgren’s life and style was Norman Rockwell. They were introduced at a meeting in 1947 of Brown & Bigelow Manager’s Convention. Their friendship lasted all their life, and they often talked about ideas and technics, influencing each other for many years.Besides creating pin-up art and advertisement illustrations, he was also a skilled photographer, an ability which he used to improve modelling and creation of his works. He wasn’t the only artist who used this help.

Although Elvgren’s techniques and skills evolved with time, there are a few particular elements of his style which were present during almost all of his career. One of them was how he was capable of using the background and context of the pin-up girl to enhance the situation and painting. Although this wasn’t present in his early paintings for Dow, it’s often cited as one of the key elements for the success of his paintings.Elvgren often idealized the women in his paintings, but making them look as everyday women. His perfect pin-up was a girl with a 15 year old face, but a 20 year old body. He constantly put them in humorous situations, where often they would have the skirt lifted. Upskirts and cleavage were the most common results, with lingerie and nudes appearing seldomly.Common additions to the paintings were animals, specially dogs. Influenced by the environment in his Siesta Key house, he also made several pin-ups with a sea theme. Elvgren also painted numerous glamour girls.Elvgren usually searched for young models, without experience in modelling, to get that fresh look and spontaneity. Some of these young, unknown models later became stars, but also often starlettes in the beginning of their careers sought being models for Elvgren’s exquisite pin-ups. This way, famous stars like Myrna Loy, Donna Reed, Barbara Hale, and Kim Novak modeled for Elvgren. He also used as models girls he knew; for example, one of his favorite models was Janet Rae, daughter of his neighbours.

  • ^ A. E. Mendez: That 60s Girl
    • Gil Elvgren: All His Gla

      morous American Pin-Ups, by Charles G. Martignette and Louis K. Meisel, ISBN 978-3-8228-2930-1

    • The Art And Life Of Gil Elvgren,by Charles G. Martignette.
    • The Great American Pin-Up, by Charles G. Martignette and Louis K. Meisel, ISBN 3-8228-1701-5

    • Pin-up girl
    • List of pin-up artists
    • List of illustrators


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