1890s – History of Pin-Up

The 1890s wraps up the first century of Pin-Up Photography, as well as the end of the Victorian era. This era doesn’t go out without some great progress for the genre, as well as society as a whole.

Greek Inspired Pin-Up. Photo by Chris Wooley

Greek Inspired Pin-Up. Photo by Chris Wooley

We see a huge progression spurt of growth in the cigarette cards that were first introduced in the 1880s. And following the 1870s need for classic scenes and bodyscapes, we also see recreations of famous paintings, scenes, and theme from classic oil painters.

Featured here is an example of an 1890s style tribute to the traditional Greek paintings. The woman is featured against a painted backdrop or ancient ruins, wrapped in a cloth, and using a column to help make the scene more dimensional. The cloth drop at the bottom masks the edge of the painted backdrop. Also note how the model is looking off into the unknown and is decorated with jewelry and accents.

These three styles (Fine Art Bodyscapes, Cigarette Cards, and Classics Inspired) rounded out the end of the era.

Another HUGE influence came to the US in the 1890s; more specifically, it came to Chicago in 1893. The World’s Fair was in town and ticket sales were aweful. However, halfway through the fair, a new act entered the exhibit and made history. Fahreda Mahzar Spyropolos, known as “Little Egypt” dared to do something no one had done before: she bared her belly in public. She had a burlesque show called “Streets of Cairo” in which she gyrated in her historic “cooch dance.” This was the first time American audiences were introduced to Bellydancing. It did not go unnoticed.

Nowadays, this might seem like no big deal – but for the time it was shocking. The local clergy were outraged and made a big deal of the immoral spectacle. This reached the press and their opinions were printed in the newspapers, along with a descriptions of Little Egypt’s technique. As you might of guessed, these news reports caused an instant flood interest in the fair, and specifically the dance.

This single act helped save the world’s fair from a loss, while also confirming the public’s preference of this “lower art form” for live entertainment. It may seem like a small moment, but the timing was great. For the 1890s also birthed a new medium film movies. Art influences art. Live performances with nudity likewise influenced films to have nudity. Nudity in films allowed magazines to have nudity. Viewers were still shocked to see any such nudity in any artistic format, but it started public acceptance of this genre.


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