The concept of a sex symbol was coined in the mid-1950s and was closely linked to the thriving film industry and Hollywood. With the promise of a simpler existence – without war and misery – a new generation of young people became attracted to cinemas around the world in which to see exciting dramas and beautiful faces.

Throughout the ages, both women and men have been called sex symbols – those with beauty, charisma and, of course, sex appeal. However, the whole thing could be both a blessing and a curse – despite the wealth and exaltation such an epitome might entail, it comes with the price of a stormy private life and mental illness.

Here are some of Hollywood's most iconic sex symbols.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe was born as Norma Jeane Baker in 1926 and is one of the world's most famous women. For many, she is first image to come to mind as a ‘sex symbol’, the blonde bombshell that charmed millions through the screen. Monroe's stormy privacy, relationship with the Kennedy family, and tragic, premature death have contributed to her mythical and iconic status.

Brigitte Bardot

Bardot became popular in 1956 as the protagonist in the film And God Created Woman. The success was immediate and the then 22-year-old Bardot quickly entered the role of sex symbol for a whole generation. Her husband, Roger Vadim, was a director and strongly contributed to Bardot's status by providing her with roles where she was portrayed as the ultimate woman. In this way, the myth of the easy-going, sexy, easily accessible and feminine woman was created. In the 1960s, after she divorced from Vadim, Bardot finally got redress. She got more and more serious film roles where her acting talent and hard work became clear.

Elizabeth Taylor

Actress Elizabeth Taylor was born in 1932 in London, but moved to Los Angeles as a seven-year-old. Even as a child Taylor was recognised for her charm and debuted as a film star in 1942. In time, she would become one of the world's most famous actresses – as well as one of the most well-paid. No one could have missed her sex appeal in films such as Cleopatra (1963) or Cat on Hot Tin Roof (1958).

Taylor's status as a sex symbol was unlike many others – she had neither Marilyn Monroe's pin up appearance nor that of Brigitte Bardot, who was the front figure of the 1960s sexual revolution

Taylor managed to master the seemingly impossible combination of a woman radiating both sex and power simultaneously.

Sophia Loren

Sophia Loren was born in 1934 and grew up in poor conditions in Rome with her single mother. She was discovered young, at 14 years, by her future husband, the 22-year-old film producer Carlo Ponti. In 1954 she broke through with the film The River Girl, and in 1961 she received an Oscar for her work in The Two Women, and was also awarded an honorary Oscar in 1991.

Audrey Hepburn

Although Audrey Hepburn is often portrayed as Marilyn Monroe's antithesis, the two actresses have achieved the same pervasive, iconic status. Unlike Monroe's uncomplicated, beautiful, clever and cheerful blonde's status, Hepburn came to be hailed as intellectual, sophisticated and elegant.

All photographs featured in this article have already sold on Catawiki. Interested in selling? Click here.