Highly regarded as the greatest pin up artist of all time, the work of Gil Elvgren has continued to inspire artists and individuals alike since the first time he laid brush to canvas. With his superiority confirmed through the sheer prolificacy of his work, Elvgren’s iconic paintings of pin up girls served to redefine the role of beauty in America, while setting artistic standards for quality and taste. Born and raised in the town of St. Paul, Minneapolis, Gillette Elvgren was initially drawn to the world of architecture as a youth, his parents nurturing their sons artistic abilities after noticing his knack for illustration. In addition to courses at the University of Minnesota for architecture and design, Elvgren also occupied his time with classes at the Art Institute of Minneapolis. It was in the summer of 1933 that Gil realized a career in the arts would be more fulfilling than one creating buildings and structures. Marrying his high school sweetheart in the fall of 1933, the couple moved to Chicago to allow Elvgren to immerse himself in the art world there. Already talented before entering the American Academy of Art, Elvgren thrived in the creative environment, simply outworking his peers through his determination to succeed. Working under the watchful eye of fellow artist and teacher Bill Mosby, Elvgren excelled with an unwavering dedication to his craft, “So many of the students come here without a clearly defined idea of what they want to do. Gil, from the very first, knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted to be a good painter more than anything else. Into two years he packed three and a half years of work. He had classes during the day; he went to night classes and classes during the summer. In the off-hours and on weekends he painted. He was a good student and worked harder than anyone I have ever seen. He took every course that could teach him anything about painting. We tried to tell him that it was not good to put all his eggs in one basket and that he should take some of the courses in advertising layout and lettering that would give him a more flexible background for commercial work. He admitted that there was logic in this and appreciated the interest in his welfare, but persistently refused to have anything to do with [those subjects]. In the two years, his progress was phenomenal. Without question he turned out to be one of the most successful of our alumni.” Still without a single commissioned work, Gil pushed forward off the promise of his potential. Moving back to Minneapolis in 1936, Gil opened his first studio, and soon after received his first commissioned work, a painting of a stylish man for a fashion catalogue. Upon seeing the piece, the company’s president was so impressed he ordered another half dozen catalogue covers. Steadily improving with each piece, Elvgren’s talents soon caught the attention of Brown & Brothers, the world’s most well known calendar company. His relationship with the firm would serve as one of the defining partnerships of Elvgren’s career. Another relationship that proved fruitful for the young artist came when he was introduced to fellow artist Haddon H. Sundblom, (1899-1976) whose friendship would lead Elvgren to even greater commercial success. Through Sundblom, Elvgren took on advertising work with big brands such as General Electric and Coca Cola, the latter partnership proving substantial for many reasons. Leading to twenty five years of advertising work with the company, Elvgren’s images unified Coca Cola with the American dream, creating inspired imagery that spoke to the aspirations of his audience. In many ways, Elvgren’s pin ups came to define the image of feminine beauty for the time. Although rarely straying from Caucasian women, “Elvgren’s Girls” as they were called, maintained a vivacious demeanor that was related through the images. Relying on his family to come up with concepts and situations for his paintings, Gil’s best ideas often times came from conversations over dinner with his wife and kids. With a growing resume and greater commercial success, Elvgren’s schedule was always occupied, as art directors were accustomed to waiting up to a year to work with the budding artist. Commissioned to do works for numerous brands and magazines, the quality of Elvgren’s work continued to improve as his technique came to define his signature style. Expertly planning each shoot, Elvgren’s creative process involved precise steps that led to a finished product. Starting with an idea, he would then develop a situation. Finding an appropriate model next, Elvgren would select the wardrobe and props to situate in a fitting background. Once the concept was created, he would photograph the model to later paint. By creating his own distinctive aesthetic, Elvgren’s work stood apart from his contemporaries through the natural essence of his images. Forming a union between space, setting, color and character, Elvgren’s girls maintained an endearing quality that celebrated femininity with a touch of elegance. As an artist and a friend, Elvgren’s commitment to artistry inspired countless artists within the genre of pin up art and beyond. Creating his most exceptional works towards the end of his career, Gil’s pin ups grew in quality and sophistication, reaching a high level of comfort and confidence in his own artistic abilities. In an age where often times more has become less, Gil’s pin ups provide a refreshing contrast to the often times exploitive nature of pin up photography today. Gil’s work proves that beauty lies in the imagination of the viewer, as his work alludes to an almost dream like image of feminine beauty. As iconic relics of the past, the pin up girl will continue to mirror societies ever evolving perception of beauty and femininity. Much to the credit of Gil Elvgren, who will undoubtedly be known as one of America’s greatest illustrators.