Painting of an unknown model and Rosie, the beagle, by David Wright.
Monday, January 6, 2014

When I was in the 7th and 8th grades we went a couple of times to Marshall Hall amusement park in Maryland. This was a big deal that involved going to DC, and taking the Wilson Line boat that left marina somewhere in SW DC, and made a stop at Mount Vernon before ending at the amusement park. In those days they had slot machines, nickel and dimes as I recall. They also had machines that appealed even more to adolescents and those entering that period of hormonal stress known as puberty. These machines dispensed pin-up cards. Nowadays pictures such as the girl and her penguins, or the pretty miss making a cash deposit, both by Gil Elvgren seem rather tame and amusing.

These pictures are rather sexy, but the girls in them are wholesome, at least by current standards, they may have been around the block once or twice, but not twenty or thirty times. They haven't, like the bloody Red Baron, “been running the score.”

If they're relatively innocent, they're also unrealistic, and perhaps a bit overblown. They're perhaps just a tad too perfect.

David Wright was British, and he'd worked as a fashion illustrator before the war. Unlike General Patton, as portrayed in the movie from 1970, the British had no trouble with pin-ups. They had found them to be a significant morale booster in WW I, The Great War, and they supported Wright in his illustrative efforts. The girls, Wright Lovelies, are a good deal more realistic than Gil Elvgren's efforts. The first of his efforts, shown on the right, is obviously a good deal more realistic than the Elvgren girls shown on the left. She is equally desirable, but she's not so much the girl next door as her citified friend, who's been hanging out in night clubs and bars rather than munching on fish and chips.

I argued a few years back that part of the reason for the war against terrorism was a rejection of the imposition of a theocratic tyranny upon us. The idea that some archaic tribal morality should be imposed at the whim of a barbarous mentality rather than a morality that derives from the sources of Western thought and belief. Yet the pinup, as opposed to the burqaed babe, represents not simply lust, but an idealized figure of yearning. As such, arguably, she embodies one's aspirations to a certain kind of life. The American girl next door, represents the middle class aspirations of the GI; while the young woman at the top, or the Lovely at the right, a more sophisticated and British invocation, represents a yearning for a more sophisticated, somewhat more glamorous life. Whether that yearning is good or not or even whether it's morally acceptable is open for debate, but people do yearn for pretty girls and nice things.

So is what Wright does art? There's no question that the Sargent, shown on the left, and one of my favorite paintings, is art. It is firmly ensconced in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., so it has the approbation of not just critics, but of the Federal government. How does it differ from Wright's picture of the young lady in repose with the dog at the top? There are obvious technical things some of which may be apparent even in the photographic reproductions. Wright's painting has a plainer background, the girl exposes more of her body, and she is not somnolent. The brushwork appears to be different. Sargent, in some areas of the painting uses impasto to thicken the skirt of the dress, which gives it, I think, a more three dimensional appearance. Is the Sargent a better painting, in terms of aesthetics, than the Wright? It's more canonical than the Wright, and it would fetch a better price at auction, but those aren't necessarily arbiters of quality. In any case, the viewer must decide his level of appreciation for either.

In any case, whatever you may think of pin-up art, or David Wright, here's an example of one of his book covers. That should make anyone want to settle down with a good book and start reading.

Next up, Tom Clancy's last book, Command Authority, followed by John Ringo's effort in the zombie genre, Under A Graveyard Sky.