Pin up

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Marilyn Monroe , then Norma Jeane Dougherty, poses for the army magazine Yank, the Army Weekly . The magazine with a circulation of 2.6 million was particularly popular with soldiers because of its pin-up photos.

A pin-up is an image that usually shows a woman in an erotic pose and is pinned to a wall.


Translating the English term to pin up brings you closer to the essence of pin-up pictures. Because the typical thing about pin-ups is that they are often pinned to the wall. Frequent forms are calendar pictures and "center folds" (= double-sided or even larger fold-out, removable posters in / out of the middle of magazines or journals).


First pin-up by Charles Dana Gibson (1887)

Pin-up art, which only received definition as an art form in the 1980s, was viewed as an illustration until then . So were dime novels , magazines and magazine covers - even the covers of reputable magazines such as the " Times " - illustrated with pin-ups. The graphics created by Raphael Kirchner in the 1910s, some of which were sold in large numbers as postcards, can be regarded as early forms. The pin-ups can be described as everyday art, because they were received in millions of numbers from the 1920s to the 1970s by a broad section of the population through the media mentioned above, but also through advertising posters or depicted on other objects . Pin-ups were therefore also suitable as a mass-effective medium for war propaganda, "which clearly uses erotically charged images" to stimulate one's own camp.

During the Second World War, US soldiers carried pin-up pictures millions of times with them. In 1943, 20th Century Fox photographer Frank Powolny photographed Betty Grable as a pin-up girl in a bathing suit from behind, smiling mischievously over her shoulder at the viewer. The photo was the most popular pin-up of American soldiers in World War II and was omnipresent in their lockers. It is considered iconographic for this time. 20th Century-Fox used this fame in 1944 for the film Pin up Girl .

Nose art

The pin-up picture template for the Memphis Belle ("The Beauty of Memphis"), which was painted as nose art on the Memphis Belle airplane by Corporal Tony Starcer , was created by George Petty and was used as a centerfold pin-up at Esquire published in April 1941.
Pin-up girl riding a bomb on a B-17 bomber

In the Second World War and also in the Korean War , the pin-up art gained a completely new distribution in the area of ​​" nose art ", that is, in the painting of fighter aircraft, especially in the USAAF . In addition to comic characters and martial allegories , pictures of pin-up girls were particularly widespread, the machines were often named after the pin-up girls or the motifs were designed in such a way that they embodied the fictional character of the machine that you were the crew members assigned. In many cases, prints by pin-up girls were used as a template, but there were also numerous individual motifs created by artistically talented crew members or mechanics. Many pilots and crew members transferred these images to the back of their flight jackets in order to make it clear that they belonged to a particular aircraft.

The most famous machine with such a pin-up identity was the Memphis Belle , a Boeing B-17 bomber of the US 8th Air Fleet , which bombed a total of 25 targets in Germany and occupied France in 1942 and 1943.

Nose art is still common today, especially on units in combat, but classic pin-up girls have largely disappeared.


Pin-up by Patrick Hitte

The pictures mostly show pretty young women in various poses. Most of the time these pictures have narrative, sentimental, romantic or patriotic aspects. They show scenes from the girls' everyday life, in which small mishaps sometimes happen to them. The scenes are often erotic in nature, but suggestive rather than revealing. Even if glimpses are apparently granted (e.g. under a skirt lifted up by the wind), these are left to the viewer's imagination and do not really depict anything clearly. Usually the pin-up girls are lightly dressed, but in exceptional cases completely or partially naked girls are shown.

The whole area of ​​pin-up art is shaped by the fact that the pictures are almost always commissioned work. B. for large calendar publishers like Brown & Bigelow . The employed artists painted the pictures according to the specifications and wishes of their clients and were therefore less free to design the pin-ups. The relative harmlessness of the images from a sexual point of view results primarily on the one hand from the respective contemporary censorship rules, on the other hand from the ideas of the publishers who wanted to make their products as popular as possible in order to be able to market them well and profitably. The artists often painted the pin-ups as reproductions in oil on canvas or cardboard , some also used pastel or gouache . Most of the naturalistically designed pin-up girls were painted in certain formats ( Gil Elvgren painted all works for Brown and Bigelow in the dimensions 76 cm × 61 cm) because they should be uniform for reprint. Often individual motifs were also repainted several times, in a different form or by another artist, or used again in a different context, because the property rights of the pictures were usually held by the contractors who did not consider them to be art and who used the existing motifs sparingly circumvented.


Perhaps the best-known pin-up girl was Bettie Page , who worked in the mid-1950s but whose fame has continued into the present, as shown in the biopic The Notorious Bettie Page . The fame of the illustrator Eric Stanton and the photographer Irving Klaw date back to the time they worked with Bettie Page.


Picture in the style of pin-up
Modern pin-up of the SuicideGirls

The illustrations with the motif of beautiful women can be divided into three categories, the boundaries of which partly merge into one another.

Pin up

A pin-up is a full-length picture with a narrative element. The woman in the picture is either wearing a figure-hugging item of clothing that she can wear outside the home (e.g. swimsuit, sports dress or a tight dress) or something provocative and intimate like a negligee or lingerie . Naked pin-ups, however, as already mentioned, are the exception.

Glamor girl

The next category, the glamor girl, is either a full or half-length portrait. The woman portrayed usually wears an evening dress or a costume that is less revealing than the dress of the pin-up.

Pretty girl

The third category is that of pretty girls. They were drawn by illustrators who worked for "serious" magazines. The women in the pictures were painted in a glamor style. The terms “pin-up art” and “glamor art” refer to artists who specialized in this field. “Pretty art” is almost always understood to mean motifs by artists who normally concentrated on other genres.

Pin-up calendar

For the Brown & Bigelow calendar, Gil Elvgren painted his pin-ups in 1952 based on nude studies that he had photographed himself. The Pirelli calendar appeared for the first time in 1964 and cannot be purchased. There are now countless imitators.

Well-known pin-up artists (selection)




Web links

Commons : Pin-up art  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Johannes Willms: Love, Sex and War - Pin-up Wonder Weapon. In: Sü November 14, 2007, accessed August 1, 2012 .
  2. Betty Grable Biography. Retrieved August 1, 2012 .
  3. FRANK POWOLNY. In: The New York Times Company, November 1, 1986, accessed August 1, 2012 .
  4. Dian Hanson: The Strange Pin-Up Prince. In: Taschen-Katalog Winter 2014, p. 54 ff.