Though the formula of the commercial pinup or “cheesecake” illustration was established in the 1930s and 40s by craftsmen like Alberto Vargas and George Petty, representations of idealized female forms are as old as art itself. And there were a crucial few decades preceding the genre’s classic era when its templates of pose and composition were developed by painters whose work seemed to lie on an increasingly porous border between high and popular culture.
In the gallery presented here, we can see an evolution of technique, design – and, of course, of visual eroticism, as standards of taste and sexual morality shifted across the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries. What all the artists have in common, though, is a breathtaking skill at rendering anatomy, just as their art itself shares a deep appreciation (or, some will say, objectification) of the women depicted. In our own age, pinups and their predecessors may not enjoy the critical or social favour they originally had – even then, they had their detractors – yet their fine draftsmanship and sumptuous beauty may still transfix the more tolerant, more innocent eye.
The Bathers, 1887 Pierre-August Renoir, 1841-1919