The Pin Up Art of Rolf Armstrong


Of all the famous pin up artists of the 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s,

Rolf Armstrong has few equals,

and remains a favorite with today’s audiences for several very good reasons –

—including his mastery of symbolic color,
the fine detail of his work,
the bright flashes of fashion and style,
and a distinct masculine perspective,
which he expresses on all of his canvasses–
and which tends the amplify the femininity of his beautiful models.

Born in Bay City, Michigan on Easter, 1889,
rolf-armstrong_portrait3-417Rolf was the son of a shipping magnate whose declining fortunes eventually forced him and his family to move to Detroit.

After the death of his father in 1903,
Rolf and his mother found themselves in Seattle,

and at 15, dropped out of school
and took a job as a Steamship Agent.

Rolf’s two passions,
sports  (he was an avid boxer and a skilled sailor)
and art, began to mesh as he developed his painting skills drawing for local publications,

and his mother encouraged him to get some formal instruction.

At 19, he took the train to Chicago and enrolled in the Art Institute —

rolfThere, he put himself through school working various jobs,

including that of a boxing instructor,

and an art teacher.

He then travelled to Paris,
and spent some time refining his art at the Académie Julian.

Upon his return to the United States,

Rolf was able to pick up a few commissions locally before packing up and moving to New York,

rolfawhere his brother Paul (a playwright) helped him set up a studio in Manhattan.

There, in 1912, he got his first major commission,
for the cover of ‘Judge’ magazine.

Judge was a very popular magazine at the time –
and this was a major coup for Rolf.

His cover for Judge,
and those for the Chicago Examiner,
led to more magazine commissions,

as well as portraits–


This one,
from 1913,

would have been certain to have pleased his brown-eyed model,

and was recently offered for sale at $13,500.

his style was still developing,
but there are hints to the heights of which his art would eventually reach.

He was achieving some critical success for his fresh and appealing style…..


…. and although,
he was getting very popular for his glamor art,

Rolf was also very adept at expressing the masculine perspective,

as demonstrated in his famous 1916 US Navy recruiting poster.

Armstrong’s ‘big break’ came in 1919,

…. when the large commercial art publishing company Brown and Bigelow hired Rolf to paint some calendar art—

This was the turning point.

His first work for them,

” Dream Girl”,

is a breathtaking exercise in color and beauty,
and still is considered one of his best works.

The perspective, shading, and color are top notch.

Look at how Armstrong expresses the personality in the eyes.

After this piece,
his career took off —

He found himself doing portraits of famous celebrities of the time, like:
Theda Bara,
LillianGishDecember_1921Lillian Gish,
Greta Garbo,
Constance Bennett,
Marion Davies,
Constance Talmadge,
and Pola Negri,

—– for movie magazines such as “Photoplay”,
“Pictorial Review”,
“New Movie”.

He made several very influential friends,
who were also fans of his work,
including James Cagney, with whom he shared an interest in boats, and Boris Karloff.

jewel flowers

Between his paintings for calendars, magazines, portraits, and song sheets —

…. Rolf pursued his passion for sailing in the waters off Long Island, and was rarely seen without his captain’s hat.

His Manhattan studio was a buzz of activity from 1920 on through to his retirement in the 1950’s.

He was a popular, talented and prolific artist, and an enthusiastic, and loyal friend…

His most favorite model, armstrong
Miss Jewel Flowers of North Carolina,
was featured in over 50 of his art works….

Her natural beauty and joie de vive was ideally suited for the kind of work Armstrong loved to paint,

…..and somehow,
he managed to make each image of Miss Flowers as distinct and fresh as the first.

Rolf Armstrong is said to have been a strong influence on artists ranging from Zoe Mozert to Earl Moran…

Most fans of pin-ups can identify a Rolf Armstrong artwork without too much trouble,

rolfsignbecause of his noted artistry with colors,
( especially in backgrounds)

— his lines, shadings and forms,

—but also,
his distinctive signature appears on almost of all of his published work,

which only adds to the collectability and popularity of it.

Rolf retired in 1957,
and died three years later in Hawaii…

Still, the beautiful art-works Armstrong created number in the hundreds….

And he is remembered as one of the finest artists in the pin up and glamor genre.