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« If Reality is a Head of Hair, Is Language a Comb? | Main | Three Questions »

April 01, 2004

The Elvgren Mystery Continues


A couple months ago I broke the remarkable story of Gil Elvgren's astonishing burst of painting in a 1938 sabbatical from his career as an illustrator. (My posting can be read here.) Over a few months in that year, Mr. Elvgren, ordinarily a creator of pretty-girl calendar paintings, cranked out a set of masterpieces which anticipated the formal concerns of artists many decades in the future like Frank Stella and Gerhardt Richter.

Shockingly, several more examples of his visionary work have appeared. As a result of my close relationship with the security guard currently watching over these paintings, and my willingness to make a large contribution to his favorite charity—him—I was allowed to take these photos, which have never before appeared anywhere.

G. Elvgren, Black Painting, 1938

The first painting appears to anticipate many of the concerns of noted abstract expressionist Ad Reinhardt, as well as the series of all-black canvases produced by a variety of artists in the 1970s. What is particularly uncanny is the use of Reinhardt’s patented square format for the painting, as well as the exploration of the aesthetic subtleties of black on black.

G. Elvgren, Springboard, 1938

The second painting appears to utilize much of Mark Rothko’s compositional apparatus, here making the link between abstraction and landscape painting particularly visible. Some commentators feel that a remarkably early commitment to raising the public’s awareness of the dangers of industrial pollution is also a factor in this unusual work.

How to account for Elvgren’s time-warping genius? I doubt it’s possible. Still, we’re going to keep on trying. The answers are out there, somewhere.



posted by Friedrich at April 1, 2004


Very viewing "Springboard" as a larger image, the caption "22 FT" is painted on the underside of the springboard. That measurement sparked some research. In the 700's the Fiacres, followers of St. Fiacre,( patron saint of Venereal Diseases, were trying to determine the actual distance between their regular place of sinning (well, they were followers and they did occasionally fall off the sexual abstinence wagon) and Hell. Through primitive measurements, they somehow came up with 26.5 rods. Converted to feet, 26.5 rods is exactly 22 ft. Coincidence with Elvgren's underside notes? Hardly. April 1st and "The Elvgren Mystery Continues"... Half-hardly?

Posted by: darkoV on April 1, 2004 10:34 AM

I imagine some others may not have noticed, but is this girl sitting on a diving board while The End of The World is taking place behind her? What's all the red sky and black hills? And no visible water?

It also makes me think the whole porn industry is completely unnecessary. The giddy response to these very chaste bathing suit photos (including dopey bathing cap with rubber flowers) is plenty to make men spend money. Why do more?

Posted by: annette on April 1, 2004 10:46 AM

I am both shocked and disappointed that the shoddy scholarship displayed in this article makes no reference to Elvgren's groundbreaking contribution to action painting and abstract expressionism. A brief glance at his masterwork "Ticket to Ride" at:

American Digest Elvgren/Pollock/Beatles Connection

establishes clearly and concretely that this great painter not only prefigured that drunk Pollock but those four adorable moptops from the UK as well.

I trust that in the future, Friedrich, will put a little sweat into his investigations. After all, Elvgren has a lot of skin in the game.

Posted by: Gerard Van der Leun on April 1, 2004 1:15 PM

I know this is supposed to be a funny thread, and perhaps this comment will be viewed as bein unintentionally in that vein, but I do take the art of the pinup with a some seriousness.

And am studying the evolution of the Playboy centerfold shoots, which evolved from Evgren type pinup attitudes in the mid-fifties, to a minimally erotic peak in the work of Posar,etc in the late sixties/early seventies...and then declined precipitously.

Evgren type work endures in the work of Hildebrandt, for instance. Non-pornagraphic nude female portraiture, as in Rubens or 19th century academic painters, has virtually disappeared.

But this wasn't meant to be a serious thread. Sorry

Posted by: bob mcmanus on April 1, 2004 2:13 PM

The power of the p***y!

Posted by: ricpic on April 1, 2004 3:37 PM

An appropriate post, considering the date ...

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on April 1, 2004 4:35 PM

I've heard rumors that there are yet more groundbreaking Elvgren works out there, and that several more big artworld reps will take a blow once they emerge. Watch out, Salvador! Watch out, Cy! Watch out, Georgia!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 2, 2004 12:29 AM

Take one, give one, what's the diff?

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on April 2, 2004 2:28 AM

Yeah, he's one of the greats!

Posted by: J Koontz on April 8, 2004 6:17 AM

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