Category Archives: Art
Joseph Christian Leyendecker’s life, career, and love is captured in a new film, Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker, which I watched the other day on Paramount+. The documentary shows Leyendecker’s enduring influence on American culture and LGBTQ+ representation in advertising, as well as the relationship with his partner, Charles Beach, the muse for Leyendecker’s “Arrow Collar Man.”
The use of men as sexy symbols in advertising would not have existed without the influence of Leyendecker’s art. The German-American artist received training in Paris under the French Art Nouveau movement and imported some of this “Modern Style” to United States. His ad illustrations, which leaned into sexualizing his handsome male subjects, made brands like Arrow shirts fly off the shelves while also defining the image of the early 20th-century American man. Many of his illustrations featured intimate gazes between two gentlemen. Often, if there were two gentlemen and a lady, the two men would be focused on each other and not the woman.
Additionally, Leyendecker painted over 400 magazine covers in his career — over 300 alone for The Saturday Evening Post — essentially creating the design template still in use today. His stock took a plunge along with Wall Street following the Great Depression, when shrinking wallets also meant a return to social conservatism. The public turned away from Leyendecker’s eroticized male forms toward Norman Rockwell, a more traditional illustrator who was mentored by Leyendecker.
The image below of an Ivory Soap advertisement from 1900 is one of his early pieces before he met Charles Beach; however, it is a great example of the coded messages in many of his works. Can you spot the “code” in this image? Once you see it, you’ll probably never not see it.
In honor of the (Winter) Olympics beginning this week, I’ll end with this 1932 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. Strangely, the conservative, anti-New Deal, and middle class family orientated publication had what is (to most modern eyes at least) a sexualized ‘gay’ image of the U.S. Olympic Eight on its cover, painted by Leyendecker. This was not the only time that Leyendecker put semi-naked men on a pedestal as you’ve seen in some of his other illustrations.
Gallery of the Louvre
I know this is not the type of picture you expect on this blog, but it’s one that been on my mind lately as I’ve worked on our new exhibit. This painting will not be in our exhibit, but it is one that I came across while doing research for our exhibit. The painting above is titled Gallery of the Louvre and was painted by Samuel F. B. Morse between 1831–33. Morse is better known today for his invention of the electromagnetic telegraph—and for “Morse” code—but he began his career as a painter and rose to the Presidency of the National Academy of Design in New York. Morse always wanted to be known as a great painter and never liked the fame he received for his invention. That could be because he got the idea from someone else, although the name escapes me at the moment.
The monumental Gallery of the Louvre (it measures 73.75 in. x 108 in.) is Morse’s masterwork. It is currently owned by the Terra Foundation for American Art as part of the Daniel J. Terra Collection. Gallery of the Louvre was Morse’s ambitious effort to capture images of the Louvre’s great paintings and transport them across the ocean and throughout the country, to the republic’s young cities and villages, so that art and culture could grow there.
Morse was one of the major historical figures I researched while I was writing my (never completed) dissertation. While this is an unusual post for me, I have had such a great time delving into my old research again to prepare for this exhibit, and I wanted to share some of it. It’s been a lot of work, and I’ve been incredibly busy. So, if my posts are not exactly substantial for the next couple of weeks, it’s because my creative endeavors have been focused elsewhere, and considering that I’m not a very creative person, there isn’t much creativity to spare at the moment, but I’ll continue to do my best.
The people in Gallery of the Louvre are real people known to Morse, and the paintings within the painting are famous works from the Louvre. One of the people is Morse himself.
1) Samuel F. B. Morse
2) Titian’s Francis I, 1539
3) The American writer James Fenimore Cooper, his wife Susan, and their daughter also named Susan
4) American sculptor Horatio Greenough, who was probably most famous for the monstrosity that he sculpted of George Washington (which could be a whole other post in itself)
5) Richard West Habersham, a young American portraitist from Georgia, who was Morse’s roommate in Paris
6) Possibly a woman named Miss Joreter, who took lessons from Morse in the Louvre
7) Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Lisa Gherardini, known famously as the Mona Lisa
Remembering Steve Walker
Since the beginning of this blog, I have used the 2001 painting “David and Me” by Canadian artist Steve Walker as my profile picture and my avatar. Someday, I may change it to an actually picture of me, but for now it remains. I chose it for what I think is a very good reason. Back in 2006, I spent a month in Italy conducting research for my dissertation. I remember standing in front of and looking up at the remarkable statue of David by Michelangelo much like the guy in the picture, though I don’t think I was wearing a backpack at the time. It was a truly awesome experience. Each time I look at images of the painting I am transported back to that day in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence. Of course, back then I did have a head full of brown hair with a similar hairstyle. Today, there is much less hair and what I do have left is now nearly completely gray. I don’t have the muscle definition I had back then, and there’s a more weight on my body. The painting has always had a special place in my heart, and I wish I owned an actual print of the image.
Walker passed away at his home in Costa Rica on Jan 4,2012, at age 50. He was best known for his haunting and poignant acrylic portraits of beautiful young men (solo and in pairs), often done in muted shades. “Some colors are very exciting to me,” he once told James Lyman, a Massachusetts gallery owner and Walker’s art executor and trustee. “While others are quite offensive. Painting flesh is very exciting to me because of the huge variations possible within a very small color range.”
According to friends, Walker was strongly influenced by Renaissance Italian artist Caravaggio – especially in his use of shadow to show the contours of the young male form. For his subjects, he chose to paint gay men, depicting the struggles and joys the gay community lived through in his lifetime, from the fight for sexual liberation to the devastation brought about by HIV and AIDS. Walker believed his subjects were universal, touching on themes of love, hate, pain, joy, beauty, loneliness, attraction, hope, despair, life, and death.
As a homosexual, I have been moved, educated, and inspired by works that deal with a heterosexual context. Why would I assume that a heterosexual would be incapable of appreciating work that speaks to common themes in life, as seen through my eyes as a gay man? If the heterosexual population is unable to do this, then the loss is theirs, not mine
Walker was an entirely self-taught artist and sold his first painting, Blue Boy in 1990. He painted a second in 1991, called Morning, of two young men in bed after sex. Walker’s paintings were mostly large because he believed that a large image was more appealing and has more impact than a smaller one. As with many artists, Walker was painting the sadness that was in his life. Two of Walker’s partners had died over the years, and his close friend Marlene Anderson says he was lonely. His paintings are about gay life, and the focus of them often depicted sadness and loneliness to reflect the reality that much of anyone’s life is sad and lonely. Walker told a firend that it is rare to find success as an artist, and Walker was happy his work would be his lasting legacy.
I strive to make people stop, if only a moment, think and actually feel something. My paintings contain as many questions as answers. I hope that in its silence, the body of my work has given a voice to my life, the lives of others, and in doing so, the dignity of all people.
In his lifetime, Walter’s work was exhibited in Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Provincetown, and Pasadena. Much of the gay community loved Walker’s work and many pieces were sold for several thousand dollars. His art appear on the covers of gay novels, such as American writer Felice Picano’s 1995 epic Like People in History and the late Gordon Anderson’s novel of 1970s Toronto, The Toronto You Are Leaving. His paintings also grace the covers of six books by Michael Thomas Ford: Last Summer, Looking For It, Full Circle, Changing Tides, What We Remember, and The Road Home. Ford describes the book on his website mirroring what has been said about Walker’s art:
Much of my fiction is about what it’s like living as a gay man at this time in history. These six novels look at different aspects of the gay experience. Although they share a cover style, they are not a series, and may be read in any order. Many people ask who the cover artist is. It’s Steve Walker. Steve died in 2012, but his wonderful artwork capturing the lives of gay men remains to remind us of his talent.
Moment of Zen: LGBTQ+ Art, Material Culture & History
A signed copy of the Bruce Weber photograph above, titled Tara and her pal Chris, San Onofre, CA, just sold at Swann Auction Galleries for $4,500. Bruce Weber (born March 29, 1946) is a fashion photographer. He is most widely known for his ad campaigns for Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Pirelli, Abercrombie & Fitch, Revlon, and Gianni Versace, as well as his work for Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, Elle, Life, Interview, and Rolling Stone magazines.
The auction “LGBTQ+ Art, Material Culture & History” was the gallery’s third annual auction dedicated to the art, material culture, and history of the LGBTQ+ community. The auction brought to market both familiar artists as well as fresh, unusual, and infrequently seen material. Among the art highlights are several original works by Tom of Finland, including two preparatory drawings and a completed, color pencil work, “Home—Secured.” It also included four oil paintings by Hugh Steers—two canvases and two works on paper. Other art and photography included are works by Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, David Wojnarowicz, Nan Goldin, Patrick Angus, Lowell Nesbit, Robert Bliss, Nicole Eisenman, Robert Loughlin, Paul Cadmus, Jean Cocteau, Avel de Knight, Pavel Tchelitchew, Duncan Grant and others.
The Boston Museum of Fine Arts is amazing. They had a Botticelli exhibit that was truly out of this world. The Venus above is an example of what was there. We also went to the American gallery where they had an exhibit of John Singer Seargent. Wow, that was some beautiful art, such as the nude below.
Homosexuality in Japan’s Edo Period
Japan’s Edo period, stretching from the 17th to 19th century, was characterized by economic growth and a rigid social order, both of which worked together to bolster a before unrealized interest in art, culture, entertainment and, yes, sex.
While most marriages at the time were arranged — and between a man and a woman — sex between two men was not at all uncommon, though often kept out of public view. For the most part, such erotic encounters were allocated to three spheres: red-light style pleasure districts, kabuki theater, and shunga, or erotic art.
Artistic representations of erotic encounters between two men, known as nanshoku, are harder to find in the annals of shunga prints than images of sexually skilled octopi. However, a wildly rare shunga handscroll by artist Miyagawa Choshun, which has been shielded from public view since the 1970s, depicting man-on-man loving, has been recently rediscovered by Bonhams auction house.
“In the strictly regulated society of Edo period Japan, it was not unusual for people to yearn for circumstances and opportunities not afforded them by birth,” Bonhams’ Director of Japanese Art Jeff Olson said in a press statement. “For most, costly visits to the pleasure quarters were out of reach, so illustrated erotica was the next best thing.”
While most shunga prints frame the genitals front and center, nanshoku works focus more on the tender romance of the relationship. Think of them as the soft-core alternative to hardcore porn. The pairings normally consist of an older man and a younger partner, dressed in an ornate kimono and traditional woman’s hairstyle. Artistic depictions often muse on the luxurious details of the young lover’s garments and appearance.
Choshun’s striking handscrolls are at once minimalist in their color-blocked elegance and grandiose in their detailed renderings of kimonos and tricky-looking sexual positions. The lovers are rendered in a gold-tinted, floating world, swallowed up by the fantasy of their own desires.
This article is from the Huffington Post, though slightly edited. To see more of these depictions of Japanese gay erotica (though I’ll be honest, they don’t look too gay to me), you can feast your eyes on these delightfully rare, 17th-century Japanese gay erotica at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/feast-your-eyes-on-these-rare-17th-century-handscrolls-of-japanese-gay-erotica_us_56ec35bfe4b03a640a6a53d5
William Etty: Artist and Callipygian Enthusiast
William Etty (1787-1849) is probably the most controversial artists of whom you have probably never heard. A high-minded bachelor whose private life has defied all attempts to unearth smut, Etty was acclaimed in his day but eventually sidelined because of his defiance of moralizing, often hypocritical, critics. He was a shy man and remained a bachelor all his life, which at the time was practically a statement. There is no way to confirm Etty’s sexual orientation since he’s long dead and lived in a time when no one really identified as gay. However, the paintings may speak for themselves. He was a successful Royal Academy artist, but his work fell out of favor after his death. But while he was an active painter he was both admired and condemned for his detailed renderings of the naked human body.
Critics felt he focused too much on the female buttocks, but if you Google Image search for his work, you find a surprisingly large number of male nudes, many with a focus on the male buttocks as well. Seems none of his contemporaries were interested in commenting on that, but it’s obvious that Etty’s was a butt man, no matter his orientation.
Whereas his contemporaries, like J.M.W. Turner changed how people saw art, Etty wanted to change what people saw. Etty broke the rules of decorum by painting humanly realistic nudes rather than idealized gods and goddesses. Most of the criticism questioned the appropriateness of Etty’s female nudes, while the male nudes quite often found praise as “heroic.” Tragically, the critics got personal in their comments, essentially charging Etty with deliberately trying to corrupt the viewing public.
“He is a laborious draughtsman, and a beautiful colourist,” one critic began innocently enough, “but he [Etty] has not taste or chastity of mind enough to venture on the naked truth […] we fear that Mr. E will never turn from his wicked ways, and make himself fit for decent company.” “[T]he spectator can see in [Etty’s female nudes] nothing beyond the portrait of some poor girl who was necessitated to sacrifice the feelings of her sex for bread,” another critic accused. “Nudity is all that the artist has to show us, and when unassociated with anything like incident or sentiment, the spectacle is offensive.” Etty defended himself as an innocent lover of nature’s greatest creation—the human form. Even after evoking the Biblical phrase that “to the pure of heart all things are pure,” Etty’s explanations fell on deaf ears.
The Powers That Be
We finally arrived in Dallas yesterday. Let me tell you that first of all, it’s a long drive from Alabama to Dallas, even when it’s split into two days. Once in Dallas, we checked into our hotel, which was far nicer than we expected, then we headed to the Dallas Museum of Art. The DMA has live jazz every Thursday and is open until 9 pm.
Saxophonist and composer Ron Jones led an ensemble of players performing his original compositions and other arrangements of jazz standards. So along with seeing the amazing exhibits at the DMA, we were able to enjoy live music as we walked through the museum.
The highlight if my visit to the DMA was seeing the two busts sculptured by Hiram Powers. Powers is a subject of research for me, and I made a pilgrimage to his grave in Florence, Italy, while conducting research at the small English Cemetery of Florence and it’s library.
Hiram Powers epitomized the mid-nineteenth century American artist who, possessing extraordinary technical skill, worked in the predominant neoclassical style. Aided by a wealthy patron, Powers was sent to Washington, D.C. where he sculpted portraits of many government officials, including John Marshall, Daniel Webster, and Andrew Jackson. Later he moved to Italy, where he settled in Florence and established a studio with the assistance of another American sculptor, Horatio Greenough.
Powers’ two most famous sculptures age Greek Slave and Fisher Boy. He produced numerous busts in his lifetime, two of which are on display at the DMA: Faith and America.
Powers’ talent for reproducing a likeness led to a straightforward naturalism that was to remain the basis of his style. Although he later turned to more “idealized” or allegorical works such as “Faith,” “America,” and “Eve Disconsolate,” Powers’ naturalistic approach to his subject matter was perfectly suited to the aesthetic of the time.
The bust, “Eve Disconsolate,” has an interesting story to it. All but maybe four busts by Hiram Powers have a known home such as “Faith” and “America” at the DMA. However, “Eve” had been lost for about 100 years. No one knew where her bust had gone. In 1998, the City of Birmingham, Alabama began to renovate the Alabama Theater located downtown. In the process of restoring the grand theater to its former glory, they were cleaning the bust of the “Lady of the Theater” as she was called. When someone looked at the back of the bust they realized that carved into the back was “H POWERS” and someone recognized the name. It was then that they realized this was “Eve Disconsolate,” one of the missing busts of Hiram Powers. They chose to move the bust from the Alabama Theater where it had been largely neglected since the 1930s to the Birmingham Museum of Art where it resides today.
“I see art as the vehicle of nature and the artist as the collector of nature’s truths and beauties.” Hiram Powers, 1850, in Richard P. Wunder, Hiram Powers.
I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.