Fifty-eight years after his death, George Quaintance is finally getting his first one-man show. Approximately two dozen of his iconic male physique canvases, plus a large pencil sketch, a formal portrait of handsome young Peter Barclay, and two sculptures, will be on display at the Taschen Gallery, located at 8070 Beverly Blvd. (at Fairfax) in Los Angeles. Many of the pieces are for sale.
The show runs from July 3 to August 31, 2015. It is titled "The Flamboyant Life and Forbidden Art of George Quaintance." Gallery hours are 11am-6pm, Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 5pm Sundays. The gallery is closed Mondays. Admission is free. Those who are not able to visit can take a virtual tour by clicking here. (Note: if you are reading this after the show closes, the link may not work.)
Today, June 3, 2015, is the 113th anniversary of the birth of George Quaintance, and I'm happy to have exciting news to mark the date. I have written before about the painting, Kanaka Fisherman, which is the only canvas Quaintance is known to have painted more than once. You can click here to read about the three fishermen.
For most Quaintance followers, the definitive fisherman is the one that was used in the studio's 8x10 black and white photos. Yet the only known canvas for many years (unseen by most of the world) was not that fisherman. In the painting, the model was positioned differently than in the photo and the net was very different. Not only that, but the canvas was horizontal. The studio photos had a vertical orientation. And if there was still any doubt as to the differences, the painting was dated 1940 and signed vertically, whereas the photo was dated 1949 and signed horizontally.
A second Kanaka Fisherman painting emerged at the end of 2011. Like the other, it was oriented horizontally and bore a date of 1940 and a vertical signature. The waves were very different, though, and the net nearly transparent. And this "new" painting showed the horizon in the distance.
A correspondent in the Los Angeles area wrote to me in 2012 about a painting that was described in the email as follows:
"I have a George Quaintance painting of a female nude reclining on a leaf that has been in the family for many years. My stepmother was a dancer in Hollywood and for some reason, I believe that they might have known each other or worked together."
After ten years and dozens of publishers' rejections, the George Quaintance biography that John and I coauthored is available as an ebook. John passed away in 2013, and in 2014, I made a New Year's resolution to create an ebook version by year's end. I completely re-wrote every chapter, adding about 12,000 words to the original manuscript in the form of new information that we learned since first completing the bio. That task was completed, and this morning, the book became available. You can find it at smashwords.com, for the bargain price of $12.99. Please spread the word and give me your feedback. If you do not have an ebook reader, you can download and install Adobe Digital Editions free on any computer platform. Go to adobe.com/solutions/ebook/digital-editions.html.
These two items are from George Quaintance's scrapbooks. The image on the left appears to be a page from Coronet magazine, which began publishing in 1936. The image on the right appears to be a newspaper clipping. There is no explanatory information for either image, although Robert of Fifth Avenue was a department store that employed Quaintance in the 1930s.
So are we to assume that these two sculptures, both approximately life-sized and both titled The Kiss, are by Quaintance? For many years, I believed they were (even knowing that George might paste any image he liked into his scrapbooks).
You are looking at a very early work by George Quaintance that was probably painted before the artist left his native Virginia to attend art school in 1920. It was discovered earlier this year. The story follows.
George's mother, Ella Belle, remained emotionally and geographically close to her sister, Nannie Finter, throughout her life, even naming her daughter Nannie. Young Nannie died in 1920, and George's father died in 1945, so when George's mother died, years later, much of her estate passed to her sister. Her belongings included nearly every painting young George produced before he left home for art school, carefully preserved by his doting mother. Those paintings ended up in the Finter home — some in the attic or closets. Today they are carefully maintained by Nannie Finter's grand-daughter.
What becomes of an artist's legacy when there is no exhibition history, no clear estate, and no body of written work or other documentation to authenticate it? In the case of George Quaintance, it disturbs me to see so many paintings and drawings that are represented as his. It also disturbs me to see unsubstantiated claims presented as fact, such as the assertion that Quaintance and the female pin-up artist Quintana were the same person. To that I can add other inaccuracies: a recent auction in which the original canvas, Reverie, was given the title Apollo; and another auction in which a portrait of 1940s Los Angeles socialite, Mrs. Milton Stevens, was sold as being a portrait of Rita Hayworth (this was after I emailed the owner a titled photograph of the work taken directly from one of Quaintance's personal scrapbooks).
The lost works I reported about on Dec. 14, 2013 were only the tip of the iceberg of lost art by Quaintance: those canvases Quaintance considered to be part of his "Male Physique" period. Essentially, they were the paintings he mass-reproduced as chromes and as 8x10 black and white photographs and marketed in magazines. But Quaintance painted a lot more than those 54 canvases — such as the Bugle Boy depicted in the first part of this article.
What became of the original art for the 11 covers he designed for Your Physique magazine, when he was the Art Editor? Each of those issues states on the contents page that the cover is "From a painting by George Quaintance." When I interviewed Joe Weider, the magazine's publisher, at his Woodland Hills, Calif. office in 2003, I asked him about those covers. His high-ceilinged fortress was crammed with art, much of it in the form of portraits and paintings of strong men who had appeared in his magazines over the years. But nothing by Quaintance. After thinking for a while, Joe muttered something about robberies that had taken place long ago, or the possibility that the paintings were archived in warehouses in Montreal, Canada, where his publishing empire was born. He offered to check with his brother, but that inquiry turned up nothing.
Here are four final examples in the oddities category. The lissome "Matador" may be the oddest of all. The photograph that was made available to me is of poor quality. It was taken from a scrapbook in the Quaintance family, titled "Self & Family." It does not look like the work of Quaintance at all, but he loved melodramatic posturing (see b&w snapshots of young George), so perhaps it's an early self-portrait.
When an artist is dead, who is left to say "yes, this is one of his works" or "no, he did not do this"? As we have seen in the case of Mrs. Milton Stevens, an unscrupulous seller can misrepresent an artist's work in order to sell it for a higher price. Motives aside, anyone can claim, absent a definitive canon, that this or that work was created by a certain artist. In a later article we'll look at some works that have been represented on the Internet as being Quaintance pieces that are not. But for now we'll look at some odd works that actually are by Quaintance. Part 2 considers items that are not drawings or paintings in the traditional sense; part 3 will give you a look at some other unknown works that you'd never suspect were by Quaintance. A thank-you to the Finter-Salvino archive for much of this material, which has been carefully maintained and preserved by descendants of Quaintance's family.