Raphael Kirchner was born in Vienna. His father, a skilled calligrapher, urged his son to take up a musical career and Kirchner attended the Conservatoire in Vienna for a time. From 1890 to 1894, he studied at the Vienna School of Art, and then at the Spezialschule fur Historienmalerei (Special School for Historical Painting).
His early commercial work, which was heavily influenced by the Art Nouveau movement, received critical praise and in 1897 his first set of postcards, Wiener Typen, was published by Philipp & Kramer. He moved to Paris in 1900, and from there, produced illustrations for books, posters, portraits (few of which survive), ceramics and a wide variety of magazines, including the French magazine, La Vie Parisienne and Germany’s Lustige Blatter.
His paintings of slim, alluring women known as the “Kirchner Girls’ were hugely popular and were introduced to the British during the war when his work was represented in Britain by the Bruton Galleries, London. The Sketch, which often drew parallels with La Vie Parisienne (though its content was considerably less risqué) struck a deal with the Bruton Galleries to publish Kirchner’s pictures exclusively in England.
For thousands of soldiers, the delicate, fairy-like eroticism of Kirchner’s beauties provided a welcome relief to the dirt and consistent masculinity of trench life and photographs in The Sketch, The Sphere and The Illustrated War News show dug-outs with walls sporting these early ‘pin-ups’. Photographs by E. O. Hoppe of Ruby Lorraine, the model who inspired the Kirchner Girls (and to whom Kirchner bequeathed his Monte Carlo villa) featured in The Tatler.
When portfolios were published by The Sketch of Kirchner’s work, they sold out in hours, prompting the magazine to warn readers to subscribe in advance for the next one. In 1915, Kirchner left Europe for New York where he continued to work, particularly on the decoration of the Century theatre on Broadway. Tragically, he died of appendicitis on 2 August 1917, aged just 42. The Second World War may have been the golden age of pin-up art, but it is Raphael Kirchner who can lay claim to be father of the genre.