Why a Gil Elvgren Monograph & Website
The Art & Life of Gil Elvgren
Why a Gil Elvgren Monograph & Internet Domain
- by Louis K. Meisel
|1. Elvgren was the best pin-up artist in the history of American Illustration.
2. His talent was prolific enough and important enough to support a major book.
3. His influence, both as an artist and a teacher was extensive.
4. After the publication of "The Great American Pinup" the requests for more of his work were overwhelming.
5. A promise was made to the artist by our friend Art Amsie.
1. I believe it can be safely stated, without argument, that Gil Elvgren was and continues to be the best pin-up artist the world has ever known. Approximately a quarter of a million people worldwide have already viewed the works of all seventy-seven artists of this genre through the book "The Great American Pin-up". If they were asked to cast a vote for top artist, I am certain that Elvgren would receive the clear majority.
2. From the mid 1930's through 1972, Elvgren produced over five hundred paintings of beautiful girls and women. Almost all of these works are oilo on canvas, and fully developed finished works of art. Elvgren continually surpassed himself, always improving in ideas, composition, color, and technique.
3. As the years passed, Elvgren's influence was felt by dozens of younger artists who apprenticed with him, studied his work, or otherwise sought to emulate "the master". He not only influenced artists working in the pin-up tradition and other illustrators, but he also had an effect on the career of one of the Pop artists, Mel Ramos. The Photorealist painter John Kacere knew Elvgren and also credits him with personal inspiration.
4. After "The Great American Pin-up" was published and distributed worldwide in English, French and German, we have had an overwhelming response to Elvgren, including constant requests to see more of his work. It has always been our intension to honor this great artist, and the outpouring of admiration only spurred us on.
5. Art Amsie, a friend of both Charles and mine, was close to Elvgren for many years. Our personal link to Elvgren, Art not only helped introduce us to Elvgren's work but also provided us with his paintings. Art was also a friend of the great American pin-up model Bettie Page, whom he photographed in the 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s he owned a gallery, "The Girl Whirl," only gallery devoted to pin-up art during that time. As Elvgren was dying of cancer, Art promised to use all his efforts to see that an Elvgren book would be published someday, since this had been Elvgren's dream. When I met Art many years ago, I told him that with his assistance, I would take responsibility for that promise. This volume, then, is the fulfillment of a promise--to Gil, to Art, and for the world.
It has taken about ten years to assemble these images, which I believe constitute close to ninety-eight percent of all the pin-up and glamour paintings produced by the artist. Direct sources of information have come from interviews with Joyce Ballantyne, one of Elvgren's artist colleagues, and from models Myrna Hansen and Janet Rae. Janet Rae, the daughter of Elvgren's neighbors, posed for many of his best paintings, including "Inside Story", "Well Built", "Puppy Love", and "Sheer Comfort"; she was interviewed extensively by our friend Marianne Phillips. Marianne is a fountain of information on Elvgren but of course, the most important source of information and materials has been "Brown and Bigelow", the greatest calendar publishing company of all time. William Smith, Sr., and William Smith, Jr., the owners, and Teresa Roussin, archivist and licensing coordinator, have provided documents, histories, photographs, answers to limitless questions, permissions, encouragement, and overall support. Since most of Elvgren's career was spent producing art for Brown and Bigelow's best selling calendar line, it is only fitting for them to join us in immortalizing this artist. With the constant requests for more and more Elvgren images, we look forward to seeing many more reprints and licensing of these paintings from the Brown and Bigelow archives.
We have presented the story of the artist's life first, followed by the full spectrun of his images. Unlike artists whose work was done primarilly to be shown and sold in galleries--and was therefore accurately dated, titled and documented--Elvgren produced work that was meant to be reproduced. Thus, a painting completed in 1948, for instance may have been copyrighted in 1949 or 1950 but may have not appeared in print until 1951 or later. Since Elvgren's paintings are rarely dated, we can give only an approximate date, based on style, model, situation, copyright date, and dating on the products on which the images appeared. Much of the time, such clues have allowed us to determine an exact year, and our approximations are seldom more than a year or two off. The illustrations are organized in the following sections: the Louis F. Dow Years, 1937 to 1944; three chapters of images for Brown and Bigelow: the 1940s, the 1950s, and 1960 to 1972; and finally the advertising work, including the NAPA and Sylvania images.
While Elvgren may have suggested titles from time to time, most of them were made up by copyrighters working for the calendar and publishing companies. Sometimes a painting would be copyrighted under one title and published with this title as a calendar. Later it may have been reproduced as a notepad with a different title, and then as a blotter with yet another. When a single title appears in a caption herein, it is either the copyrighted title or the only one we have found for it (some paintings have acquired titles by general usage among collectors). Secondary and all other titles are included in parentheses after the main title.
Virtually all of Elvgren's work for Brown and Bigelow was oil on canvas, measuring 30 x 24 inches (76.2 x 61 cm). The Louis F. Dow paintings measure 28 x 22 inches (71.1 x 55.9 cm).
In about two hundred cases. we have been able to photograph the paintings themselves, most of which we own or have owned. As more and more originals turn up, we will try to substitute better illustrations in subsequent printings.
We hope new discoveries will be brought to our attention.