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.
Of the 56 canvases that represent George Quaintance's "male physique" period, the whereabouts of 20 remains unknown. For nine of those, I have anecdotal information; for the remaining 11 I have no information whatsoever. Readers of this blog who may have information about any of these works are encouraged to post a comment or reply privately via email. (Note: Images are not shown in their true aspect ratios.)
It is also known that Quaintance painted at least six different studies of a handsome blond named Stephen Barclay, of which at least two were nudes. This was prior to the "Male Physique" paintings. Only two of the Barclay paintings are known today, neither of which is a nude.
In 1982, a company calling itself Fun House produced a set of color notecards featuring 12 Quaintance paintings. The cards themselves measured 5x7 inches, were blank on the inside, and came with ivory-colored envelopes. The source of the original images is a mystery, but it surely was not the original paintings because the color reproduction on some of the cards is garish and inaccurate.
An article by Ted Smith, "The Art of George Quaintance," that appeared in issue #76 (February 1983) of In Touch for Men, announced the formation of an organization called the National Gay Art Archives (NGAA). It was described as "a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving this important part of our cultural heritage." The article contains reproductions of most of the notecards, a San Francisco address from which the cards might be ordered, a lot of factually incorrect information about Quaintance and his art studio and a plea for donations of money or art. Elsewhere in the issue is an illustrated advertisement for the cards.
Though their subject matter may have been worlds apart, two techniques of Normal Rockwell and George Quaintance invite comparison. Both attended the illustrious Art Students League of New York, an establishment that has been around since 1875. Rockwell's attendance there preceded Quaintance's by nine years — 1910 versus 1919 — but they appear to have "taken home" some of the same learning.
The first technique was the execution of a detailed, full-sized sketch in charcoal on onionskin or tracing paper that would then be transferred to canvas. The artist would pin or tape the sketch to the canvas, then place transfer paper (similar to the carbon paper we used with typewriters) between the sketch and the canvas and, by re-tracing the original, transfer the design to the canvas.