George Quaintance lived and worked during an era when homosexuality was repressed, when his joyful paintings and physique photos could not depict a penis. In an era before Stonewall, the sexual revolution, gay rights and the AIDS crisis, Quaintance and his high-camp erotic art existed in a demi-monde of borderline legality.
George Quaintance (1902–1957), the Master Painter of the Male Physique, was out in an age when out was not only risky, but largely illegal. Raised on a farm in rural Virginia, Quaintance traveled a fascinating path of reinvention: at various points in his life he was a Vaudeville dancer, window dresser, magazine cover artist, photographer, the favored portraitist of Washington’s smart set, and a celebrity hair designer—though he never actually touched hair. In 1982, The Voice stated, “Quaintance was gifted with so much drive and artistic talent that he had the ability to transcend the puritanical restrictions of the times and leave us something of his daring imagination in his paintings.”
George Quaintance was an artist ahead of his time, a man who forged several successful careers, yet never enjoyed mainstream fame. Had he been born a few decades later, we might know him today as a multi-tasking celebrity stylist, as a coach on Dancing with the Stars, or perhaps as the fine artist he aspired to be.
Half a century on, the masculine fantasy world created by Quaintance, populated by Latin lovers, lusty cowboys and chiseled ranch hands, retains its seductive allure. His highly prized paintings—numbering just 55—rarely come to auction, instead selling privately for undisclosed sums. As the preeminent ’male physique’ artist of the 1940s and early ’50s, his work for Physique Pictorial, Demi-Gods and Body Beautiful inspired a generation of artists like Tom of Finland, Harry Bush, Etienne, and other, lesser stars in their constellation.
Until August 31, Taschen Gallery presents The Flamboyant Life and Forbidden Art Of George Quaintance, the first public show of works by this culturally significant artist. Seventy years since the creation of his first physique painting, discover Quaintance’s masculine fantasy world, populated by Greek gods, Latin lovers, lusty cowboys and chiseled ranch hands. Accompanying pieces from photographer and gay magazine pioneer Bob Mizer, as well as from the legendary Tom of Finland, show Quaintance’s leading influence on the gay publishing and art scene.
The Flamboyant Life and Forbidden Art Of George Quaintance / Taschen Gallery – 8070 Beverly Boulevard – Los Angeles, CA 90048 – USA
By Eric Lanuit