The lost art of the American pin-up

Story highlights

  • Pin-up art is undergoing a massive resurgence
  • A decent painting will now sell for anything between $1,800 and $100,000
  • The appeal of pin-up art is not purely sexual; it is about a return to the ideal of feminine beauty of a bygone age.
With all the sexy pictures on offer all around us, one would expect the titillating images of the early 20th Century to be all but forgotten.
But the opposite seems to be true. The "pin-up" art that was first produced in Thirties America is undergoing a strong resurgence in popularity.
Since 2000, prices for original pin-up art have gone up steadily, culminating in the 2011 sale of Gil Elvgren's Gay Nymph for a cool $286,000.
A decent painting will now sell for anything between $1,800 and $100,000. And according to Dian Hanson, editor of a new history of the art form, pin-ups are here to stay.
"The ubiquity of pornography has made people draw close to something that is more polite, more restrained, that celebrates women for their beauty as well as their sexuality," she says.
"These images represent a celebration of untouchable, unattainable female beauty. They were pin-ups -- not intended to be hidden under a teenage boy's mattress, but put up on the wall as a fantasy of perfection.
"Contemporary people are nostalgic for the relative innocence and charm that they represent."
The modern audience for pin-up art, she says, is in equal part male and female. This indicates that the appeal of the form is not purely sexual; instead, it is about a return to the ideal of feminine beauty of a bygone age.
The appeal of a more innocent age
Pin-up art is becoming part of a wider appetite for the more delicate sexual culture of decades gone by.
The popularity of the new burlesque movement -- led by the performer Dita von Teese -- as well as the rising popularity of Bettie Page after her death, demonstrates a growing counterbalance for the atmosphere of aggressive sexuality that is increasingly common in the West.