Friday, April 27, 2012

Arty Farty Friday ~ George Petty & His Girls

If we were to create a series of tick-boxes for the USA, one of those charts where you tick a box at one end of a row for "excellent" and the other end for "absolutely terrible" there'd be a few ticks at the excellent end -in the entertainment section for instance: Hollywood movies, MGM, and the rest. Another tick in the "excellent" section for art - well for one particular kind of art anyway, the kind in which USA artists cornered the market: pin-up art.

Pinup art is highly skilled airbrush work - not easy to do I'd bet. Getting to the point of this post - George Petty, one of the foremost pinup artists of his day, was born this day in 1894: 27 April, in south Louisiana. He died in 1975.

Petty's father's profession - photographer - no doubt had influence on the younger Petty, especially as his Dad enjoyed producing photographs of women, often nude women. The family moved to Chicago where George grew up, attended evening classes at the Art Institute. He later studied in Paris at Académie Julian, famous for its alumni , John Singer Sargent, Alfonse Mucha, Matisse, and particularly influential to George Petty, J.C. Leyendecker. On return to the USA George wasn't drafted to serve in World War 1 as his father had died, leaving him as head of family.

He worked for an advertising agency, won first prize in the 1933 Chicago World's Fair poster contest. When the magazine Esquire was launched George Petty was engaged as a cartoonist. He lost no time in including in his presentations evidence of his fine talent for illustrating beautiful females. This led to more advertising work - swimsuits, cigarettes and more varied work for Esquire, True magazine and for calendars - those for the Ridge Tool company were to become internationally famous.

What came to be known as The Petty Girl had arrived. Petty never looked back. Petty Girls were idolised by military men of World War 2, Petty Girl copies were famously painted by military artists, The Girls were carried into battle on the noses of war planes. Below is a (possibly not as Petty-like as some) example of nose art from my husband's vintage photograph collection. Click on image to link to it + comments at Flickr.


Shrewd businessman as well as talented artist, Petty always retained secondary rights and kept his original artwork; use of his work on playing cards, glassware etc was strictly licensed. The core of his business was kept within his family circle. His wife added her ideas, son posed as date to Petty Girls. His good-looking daughter Marjorie was always his main model. All of which, for me, indicates there was no sleazy soft-porn intention to any of his work, rather there was an innocently teasing feel to it, never crossing the line, hinting only, sometimes quite pointedly but never vulgar.


Not a lot to say here. Sun in Taurus, and in first decan (tenth) of the sign, the Taurus decan, underlines his artistic temperament - Taurus is ruled by Venus, planet of the arts.

There's actually more emphasis on nextdoor sign Airy Gemini though, with Neptune, Pluto and Jupiter fairly close together there, and with Mars in Aquarius and Saturn in Libra an harmonious Grand Trine in Air signs is formed - could be seen as a nice reflection of his skills with the....AIRbrush ? Or even - the carriage through the AIR of his Petty Girls - on the noses of aircraft ?

In that Airy triangular circuit he had Neptune (creativity), Pluto (erotic), Jupiter (wide publication), Saturn in Libra (fair-minded business sense) and Mars in Aquarius - (ambition, energy, unconventional) - all seem fitting for what we know of George Petty!

Born before 6:00 AM his natal Moon would have been in business-oriented Capricorn, if later in unconventional Aquarius - either would fit and blend with the flavour of his chart. It's a pity no birth time is available, we can't know his rising sign or exactly where the planets fall in relation to the chart's angles.

A few examples of his Girls, many more can be found via Google Image:


Wisewebwoman said...

Using his daughter as a model and considering the type of exposition gives me a distinctly queasy feeling.

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~~ He didn't use her face, of course, she posed for the body only. Anyway, I understand your reservations, WWW. My view is that there was no sleazy intention here. We have to remember that his era was different from ours in many ways. Some later, copycat, artists did tend to go too far.
I think Petty is on the right side of the cusp, he took pinup art a step further than his predecessors, in making it more attractive to viewers of his own era, then human nature being what it is, later artists tried to go "one better".

In the only biography of Petty Petty: The Classic Pin-Up Art of George Petty there's an essay by his daughter :"In George Petty's Studio: A Memoir", which would be an interesting read.