Wednesday, 26 July 2017

EbookCoverWelcome to the George Quaintance blog. Your hosts, John Waybright and Ken Furtado, are the authors of QUAINTANCE: The Short Life of an American Art Pioneer, the only complete, authoritative biography of Quaintance ever written. Our book fills a cultural, historical and academic void for this seminal 20th century artist. It is packed with photos and available as an ebook at Smashwords, for the low price of $12.99. We are excited to have exclusive access to hundreds of never-published photographs from Quaintance’s personal scrapbooks and family archives. Sadly, John passed away in May 2013, before seeing the book published. We hope you will use this site as a platform to exchange ideas, information and images related to this under-valued artist, as well as to learn more about him. Please send your email to kfurtado@georgequaintance.com.

 

Morning in the DesertDuring Quaintance's lifetime, the U.S. Supreme Court had yet to come up with the Miller Test for obscenity, and nearly anyone who was offended by an image could declare it obscene. It was usually OK to show a male model's buttocks but frontal nudity was a big no-no, as was any suggestion of homoeroticism. Even if a male model wore the ubiquitous posing strap, "excessive genital delineation" could be cause for legal trouble.

Having spent 1947 in jail for using the mail to distribute "obscenity," Physique Pictorial publisher Bob Mizer employed legal advisers to avoid future errors in judgment when deciding what images could be safely published in his hugely popular magazine. Quaintance's imagery and advertising were a mainstay of Physique Pictorial in its early years, but when the painting Morning in the Desert was selected for the cover of the Feb. 1952 issue, there needed to be some changes.

lithos4aThe next two lithographs were printed simultaneously: Baths of Ancient Rome and Spartan Soldiers Bathing. These were smaller than the previous pair, with the actual print area measuring 14x11 inches. Only 10 of Quaintance's 54 canvases of the Male Physique period had a horizontal or landscape orientation, and these are two of them.

The black and white photos of these two paintings could never to justice to the subtle reflections in the water and on the tiles surrounding the pools, so this pair of canvases was an excellent choice to become the next two color lithographs.

Siesta and PreludioIf asked to name Quaintance's masterpiece, most people will choose either Siesta or Preludio. Apparently Quaintance thought so too, because those were the first two canvases of his "Male Physique" period that he chose to reproduce as color lithographs.

He had always sold 8x10 black and white photos of his canvases to a public that had an unquenchable thirst for them — his mailing list was said to number over 10,000 names. Later, acceding to the demand for color reproductions, he began to sell color chromes, or slides, of the paintings. But the lithographs were new territory. They were printed in full color that carefully duplicated the original oils and printed on heavy stock with a 16- by 20-inch print area and ample margins. The selling price was $5. After Preludio was issued as a lithograph, you could purchase both for $8.

without-restraint-book-jacketIn the late 1930s, Quaintance was busily designing women's hairstyles and department store windows. At that time he also drew a series of faces that appeared on soap wrappers, novel dust jackets and as a series of lithographs. One of his employers was Robert of Fifth Avenue, located at 675 Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Different versions exist of these lithographs. In this article we'll consider Reverie and Illusion. Each shows a pair of disembodied male and female faces. The faces in Illusion are so androgynous that many viewers assume it is a lesbian couple. That would have been extraordinary for the time, since these lithographs were openly offered for sale in New York department stores. In both lithographs, the faces are complemented by flowers: water lilies in Illusion and petunias or hibiscus flowers in Reverie.

 

Quaintance notecards 9-12Back in 1981 or so, a "group of San Franciscans" founded an organization called the National Gay Art Archives. Proclaiming that George Quaintance was "the founding father of gay beefcake art," they submitted factually incorrect articles to several national gay magazines. One such article, published in issue #76 of In Touch for Men (February 1983), carried the byline of Ted Smith, a "founder and curator of the NGAA." Smith, according to one source, intended to write a biography of Quaintance but his life was cut short by AIDS.

The National Gay Art Archives advertised "seeking original works by Quaintance & other Gay artists." Some naysayers claimed that this was just a group of guys hoping to get collectors to donate gay art to their private collection, which they were misrepresenting as a nonprofit organization.

 

odditiesQuaintance painted many images that one would not normally associate with his name, and it might surprise many people to learn that he didn't paint male models at all until he was in his forties.

The single exception would be the mural he painted for the Stanley Baptist Church in 1933, at his mother's urging. The life-sized mural depicts the imminent baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Huddled on the shore are half a dozen worshippers — all male — one of whom is uncharacteristically clad only in a fur loincloth. That man is a thinly disguised version of Quaintance himself. This would not be the last time he painted himself into one of his canvases.