Friday, June 19, 2009

Pin-ups and glamour everywhere: Must be Martignette in the air

June 19, 2009
Posted by Noah

Everywhere I look these days – be it around my desk, in my inbox or in my files – I am seeing scantily clad women. No, I’m not downloading dubious photos at work. In fact, they are actually images of pieces of great American art. For the most part they are from the Charles Martignette Estate, they’re the top of the pin-up art world – and the illustration art world, I might add – and they are readying for their debut at auction in about 3-1/2 weeks. It’s a tough job having to look at gorgeous pieces from Elvgrens, Vargas, Armstrong and Bolles, among the many many many. It’s a tough job, I know, but someone has to take one for the team.

The first selections from The Martignette Collection are going to hit the block on July 15 and 16. This is an exciting thing indeed. First of all because it’s great stuff, and second of all because work of this quality, in this quantity, from this many legendary artists, never comes on the market. Never. That’s big N little e-v-e-r and you get the point. The piece illustrated above is an Earl Moran, and I love it like no other, except for about 100 or so also in the collection. While this one won’t be publicly accessible for a while longer – it’s part of the September Glamour and Pin-Up auction – let this look just be a tease.

I’ve rambled a bit about the vastness of Martignette before, and I could certainly fill a year’s worth of posts talking about individual pieces, but I wanted to look at the pervasiveness of Pin-Up Culture all over our society right now. If you open your eyes and look for it it’s not hard to see, and it hasn’t been hard to see coming, which makes the release of the Martignette Estate all the more important.

Prices on the top examples of Pin-up and Golden Age Illustration (From Elvgren, Petty and Vargas to Rockwell, Leyendecker and Parrish) have been on the rise for quite a while, with good examples commanding appropriate high five and six figure amounts. Somewhere, though, in the last several years the imagery and philosophy of Pin-Up art has entered the mainstream consciousness.

My best guess is about three years ago when AMC debuted its amazingly good drama Mad Men. The fashion, the haircuts and décor are all spot on to the Mid-Century aesthetic; the designers on the show don’t miss a bit. But it’s in the character of the office manager, Joan Hollaway, played skillfully by the sultry Christina Hendricks, that we see the Pin-Up aesthetic in full glory. Ms. Hendricks is a walking pin-up, with the face, the hair and the body to do any great American illustrator proud. Her wardrobe is cribbed directly from any number of paintings, and the giveaway is that the producers thank the Alberto Vargas estate in the credits. If ever the new millennium will see a prime walking, talking example of a Vargas Girl, it’s Christina Hendricks. Check it out, really.

The culture is everywhere, from young girls inhabiting the clothes and ideas in the form of a bonafide subculture to its profusion in print and TV advertising, rock and roll and Hollywood, there is no mistaking this phenomenon.

It’s a beautiful thing no matter how you look at it, whether you choose to look back at the crumbling innocence of the age that originally produced the art or forward to an age when that innocence is replaced with empowerment. Personally, I choose to look to July 15 when the most important private collection of Illustration Art ever offered at public auction comes up for sale and the transformational effect its disbursement is going to have on a society ripe for its message.

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-Noah Fleisher

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