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and The Art of the Pin-up


pin-up n.
  1. a. A picture, especially of a sexually attractive person, that is displayed on a wall.
    b. A person considered a suitable model for such a picture.
  2. Something intended to be affixed to a wall.
cheese-cake n.
  1. A cake made of sweetened cottage cheese or cream cheese, eggs, milk, sugar, and flavorings.
  2. Informal. Photographs of minimally attired women.

This page is dedicated to the art of cheesecake and the pin-up. "Cheesecake", as I'm using the term here is a particular school of art, predominantly of the last hundred years. One that I think is often misunderstood. As I'm defining the term, it refers to pictures that are primarily of provocatively clad, sexually attractive women. The male equivalent would probably be "beefcake". These pictures generally focus only on the subject, with background and props kept to a minimum.

I specifically do not mean pornography. The subjects of cheesecake are attractive people, not body parts nor sexual activity. The model is "provocative" not obscene. She may be coy, flirtatious or even seductive, but all such invitations are promises or hopes of the future and not yet fait accomplis. She may also be caught unawares in the innocent act of being herself.

Hedy Lammarr Examples would be calendar pictures, post cards, and magazine pin-ups or centerfolds. Cheesecake is also used in advertisements, on posters, tin signs and the like. For years, before color photography was common, they were the main medium for publicity pictures of movie stars. (The picture to the left is Hedy Lammarr as painted by Alberto Vargas while he was working for Esquire.)

They are often humorous, with captions or a bit of dialog, differing from cartoons only in being full-color paintings and not simple line art. This is not a hard and fast distinction, though, as the pen and ink drawings of Charles Dana Gibson would seem to qualify as pin-ups.

In these pages I've attempted to trace the history of cheesecake and pin-up from its origins in the poster and commercial art of the late nineteenth century to the current day. I won't claim that this work is definitive. It's just a personal perspective, and since it's been evolving for at least a decade, it is by no means final or complete. There are always artists and trends and beautiful women that I feel bad about having left out. Some of them will, no doubt, be added in the future.

Chapter 1 starts in Paris, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century...


The text of this page, and the page as a whole is © Copyright 1996-2004 Jim Burrows.
All Rights Reserved.

The pictures used to illustrate the styles and artists reviewed here are all copyrighted by their respective creators (or their estates) or publishers and are used without explicit permission. I've done what I can to keep that use within the definitions of fair use.