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Prehistoric man obviously had some degree of veneration for the female form, judging by Paleolithic sculptures of well endowed women. Anthropologists are unsure if they symbols of fertility or erotic talismans passed around by horney hunters.
These Venuses served a need or the common good somehow, even if they don't follow our strict definition of pin-up.. Ancient Greeks were unashamed by modern standards in acceptance of the nude figure. The original Olympics were contested by naked athletes. Male athletes. Still, there are many examples of Hellenic Godesses, all in fashionable dishabille. The Greek Gods also had a tendency to interact with mere mortals in many carnal stories. Depictions of these sorts of encounters call for a degree of audience participation, understanding and involvement.
In Pompeii and the Roman world, erotic art was woven into the fabric of everyday life. Frank sexual depictions were found in public marketplaces, murals and sculptures. Once Christianity became the official religion of the state under Emperor Constantine in the Fourth Century, immoral 'pagan' imagry was banished and driven underground. Thus, unless you have a fetish for Mary Magdeline, the Dark Ages had begun. Beyond religious artifacts and decorative arts, there was scant representation of sacriligious pleasures of the flesh during Medieval times.
When a merchant class could support artists instead of just The Church, a new definition of feminine beauty could be commissioned. With municipal buildings and private villas to decorate in the city states of Italy, the myths and historical figures of ancient Rome provided ample material. Leda and the Swan, the birth of Venus and other fables provided convenient excuses to display comely nudes. All facets of science and secular humanism were brought to bear in creating the great body of works known as the Renaissance. Such classical values were imparted by Da Vinci (1452-1519), Michaelangelo (1475-1564), Titian (1485-1576) and others.
In Europe during the 1800s, there were movements to escape the excesses of the Baroque and Rococo periods and return to classical simplicity. Neoclassicism was formalized in Europe as an outgrowth of Academic Art and again the popular characters from the past were represented by mostly nude models, such as Paul Thurman's 'Psyche'. Orientalists could display nude alegorical figures in lush exotic settings without reproach. An odalisque, or harem concubine was a popular subject. Also in the 19th Century, Classicism was taken to an extreme by the English movement called the Pre-Raphaelites. While their strict adherence to Renaissance styles did not last long, their works were very influential on the Golden Age of Illustration.
Safe, Virtuous, Sexy And Unabashedly American they are part of a type of art that first appeared toward the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. The "pin-up" image was defined in, The Great American Pin-up, as ... one that shows a full length view of it's subject and characteristically has an element of a theme or some kind of story. The woman in the pin-up is usually dressed in a form-revealing outfit ... Sometimes, a pin-up may be shown as a nude ... The heyday of the pinup was the 1940s and 50s, but pinup art is still around. To this day, pinup fans emulate the classic style in fashion, merchandise, photography, and even tattoos.
Rita Hayworth's famous pose in a black negligee quickly made its way across the Atlantic in 1941, as troops brought the picture with them on the way to war. It ended up as the second most popular pinup picture in all of World War II. Hayworth, whose two brothers both fought in the conflict, didn't just pose for pictures: she also was involved in selling war bonds, and appeared in USO shows. Hayworth's famous strawberry-blonde hair was actually an act: her real hair was jet black, but she dyed it red and even altered her hairline after she became concerned about being typecast in 'Hispanic' roles.
Back in the 1940s, the studio system still ruled Hollywood, and actors and actresses were usually contracted exclusively to particular studios. Gardner was an 'MGM girl', discovered by the studio at age 18 after a photograph was spotted by talent scouts. A surprised Gardner quickly relocated to Hollywood. Her early pinup work was typical for the time, involving shots of her on the beach or in bathing suits. Later in her career, Gardner became famous as a siren and a femme fatale, and switched to a less 'innocent' image, posing in heels and long black dresses. Gardner married Frank Sinatra in 1951 and although the marriage lasted only six years, she later said that he had been the love of her life.
Outside of pinup shoots, Veronica Lake was also a popular film noir actress. She was born with the slightly less glamorous last name of 'Ockelman', but a smart producer changed it to 'Lake' to evoke her blue eyes. Lake was famous for her blonde, wavy 'peekaboo' hairstyle, the bangs of which covered her right eye. In the 1940s, women across America sacrificed half of their peripheral vision in order to imitate this hairstyle. Lake's acting was praised by critics, but she gained a reputation for being difficult to work with, and her career didn't last past the end of the decade.
Russell was nicknamed the 'sweater girl' after the garment that best emphasized her two most famous assets. In fact her debut film, The Outlaw, was almost pulled by censors who were concerned about the amount of cleavage she showed. Comedian Bob Hope once joked about how difficult it was to describe Jane Russell without moving your hands, a reference to her hourglass figure. Russell's most famous set of pinup shots shows her lying relaxed in a pile of hay, holding a revolver. Despite her detractors, Russell had a long and successful acting career, and was later best known for her part alongside Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Bettie Page rose to pinup fame only during the 1950s, later than the other models on this list. Although her entire modeling career lasted only seven years, she's probably the most enduringly popular and recognizable pinup model today. Her distinctive bangs (a photographer thought them up to hide her high forehead) are still copied by young women. According to her fans, Page's unique appeal lies in her natural smile and joyful appearance. Instead of pouting, she made sexiness seem fun.
After her retirement from modeling, her work lay forgotten for decades but resurged in the 1980s. Since then, public-domain images of Page have found their way onto merchandise, comics, and posters. A Seattle homeowner even painted a two-story version of Page on the side of his house she is cleverly covered up by the building's eaves). Shortly after her death in 2008, Reason magazine called her pinup work 'one of America's most enduring brands.'
The prize for the most popular piece of pinup art during WWII went to Betty Grable, who posed in a white bathing suit and high heels, looking over her shoulder. Betty's studio, Twentieth Century Fox, provided five million copies of this iconic picture to distribute to troops. And her success outlasted the conflict: after the war, Grable became not only the top female box office draw, but the most highly paid woman in America, earning about $300,000 a year.
Betty's legs, prominently featured in her famous photograph, were famously insured by her studio at a million dollars each - and that's in 1940 dollars. Whether this was actually considered a wise investment, or was simply a publicity move by her studio, is still up for debate.
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