Saturday, 20 January 2018

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


mae west muralQuaintance was his own best promoter, and one of the things he promoted himself as was a muralist. But where are the murals?

There's one for sure: it hangs over the baptismal font at the Stanley, Virginia Baptist Church that his mother attended. Quaintance painted it at her request, with the blessings of the church, and it's there today for all to see. It depicts life-sized figures of John the Baptist holding the hand of Jesus and leading him into the River Jordan. Six male figures are prostrate on the shore, including an anomalous jungle boy wearing a tiny loincloth.

Quaintance was also said to have painted the mural adorning an entire wall of Mae West's boudoir, at her 7,500-square-foot Santa Monica beach house. The residence was considered to be an art deco masterpiece, but the mural was destroyed during remodeling after West sold the property. I have a poor, foreshortened snapshot of the mural. It does not appear to be the work of Quaintance.

femme-fatale-with-cigaretteQuaintance executed many drawings of women — mostly nudes — that were published as lithographs. The smoking woman, clearly a femme fatale, is seldom seen. I have only a photograph of it, so I cannot comment upon the dimensions, color or date. Quaintance's signature appears clearly in the center right, and "William A. Reynolds Jr." appears in ornamental script at the bottom.

morning-glory-flowers-at-nightMorning Glory and Flowers at Night are a pair, each with an image area of 12x15 printed on thick, almond-colored stock that is 15x16 inches. The sexual parts of the flowers emerge in a swirl and morph into a nude man and woman. The title of each image appears at the lower left and "Published and Copyrighted 1938 by Wm. A. Reynolds Jr., N.Y." appears in the lower right.

moon-flower-jungle-mornMoon Flower depicts a voluptuous female provocatively posed and surrounded by large flowers. The title appears in the margin at the lower left; at the right is "Published and Copyrighted 1939 by Wm. A. Reynolds Jr., N.Y." Quaintance's vertical signature appears at the right, below the model's knee. This is one of several different female nudes by Quaintance that bore the title Moon Flower. The 1950 painting, Gilda (not shown), was Quaintance's final variation on Moon Flower and the last female nude he ever painted.

hand-colored-lithographsJungle Morn is the companion piece to Moon Flower. The marginal inscriptions are identical (except for the title), right down to the typeface. Image dimensions for both are about 18x25 inches. I can't find a signature on this one. This photo, taken from one of Quaintance's scrapbooks, shows both, framed, hanging together. Quaintance had an affinity for cats. At least three of his works contain a tiger, another a leopard, and several have various housecats.

As with Reverie and Illusion (see part 1 of the Lithographs series), hand-tinted versions exist. I have only seen photos submitted by readers of this blog; the reader who claimed to own a hand-tinted Jungle Morn did not include a photo.

This article was updated on June 3, 2017.

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.