Friday, 13 April 2012

Pin-up Venuses by J Frederick Smith

From Sappho The Art of Loving Women

Over on our Seduction of Venus blog we have just posted some photographs of girls kissing by J Frederick Smith.  These are from his book Sappho The Art of Loving Women (1975) which Agent Triple P acquired in one of those discount, remaindered book shops many years ago.  They weren't the first photographs we had seen of women interacting with each other erotically but they remain some of the most tender and romantic we have seen.

Interestingly, Smith turned to photography comparatively late in life and his early pictorial work was as an illustrator; becoming one of the top pin-up artists of the post-war period.  We can't think of another artist who moved on from illustration to becoming a top-class photographer in this way.  

Smith was born in Pasadena in 1917 and by the age of three had posed and drawn his first naked girl; who was also three.  As a teenager he won a three year Walt Disney scholarship to study fine art and design.  He moved to  Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1938 and opened his own studio doing freelance commercial work.   Even at this point he was including glamorous women in his advertising illustrations.

After a break for army service during World War 2 he returned to work as an illustrator, providing pictures for many magazine stories.   

It was his relationship with Esquire, however, that gave him the most recognition.  Esquire (founded in 1933) included Smith as one of the top pin up artists chosen to provide illustrations for their Gallery of Glamor series in 1946. 


Baroness Mary Vetsera from the Mayerling tale

Mary Vetsera again.  We are not sure about the authenticity of her lingerie and, in reality, she had a rather podgy face not the sculpted beauty of Smith's version

Empress Theodora, wife of the Emperor Justinian (he of the dreaded Institutes)

He not only produced these pictures and the pin-up centrefolds for the magazine but often produced longer, themed pictorials illustrating, for example, famous women from history; all of whom seemed to be falling out of their clothes.

Springtime (1946)

Given the modest nature of Esquire's pin up girls (and Smith's were more modest than some of his contemporaries, such as Gil Elvgren) he nevertheless managed to get an erotic charge into them by revealing unexpected parts of his girls anatomy like these two effective upskirt pictures, which manage to make an erogenous zone out of the underneath of the girls' thighs.

His girls are very classic, they don't look particularly nineteen forties although his style changed over the decades and whilst he moved on to photography he carried on doing illustrations as well into the eighties.

Three from the 1947 Esquire Calendar

May from Esquire's 1948 calendar

Needless to say his illustrations soon started to appear in Esquire's famous calendars as well as the magazine itself.

In 1952 his agents, American Artists, signed a deal with the Chicago-based Brown & Bigelow Calendar firm.  Several Esquire artists teamed up to provide pictures for their 1953 ballyhoo calendar.  Smith provided three gouache paintings for this, two of which can be seen above.  We have to say that the girl with the record player is Agent Triple P's favourite of all those that appear here.

Smith was particularly good at pictures involving groups of figures, as we shall see in some of his illustrations for women's magazines in a future post, but these two examples of girls on the beach and changing demonstrate his eye for composition.

In the next few days we will look at some of his equally elegant photographs.

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