Posts Tagged ‘Paul Cadmus

08
Feb
17

Exhibition: ‘Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York’ at the Museum of the City of New York, New York City Part 1

Exhibition dates: 7th October 2016 – 26th February 2017

An exhibition showcasing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer artistic life in New York City through the social networks of Leonard Bernstein, Mercedes de Acosta, Harmony Hammond,  Bill T. Jones, Lincoln Kirstein, Greer Lankton, George Platt Lynes,  Robert Mapplethorpe, Richard Bruce Nugent, and Andy Warhol.

Curators: Donald Albrecht, MCNY curator of architecture and design, and Stephen Vider, MCNY Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow.

 

 

#POD

This is part 1 of a monster, two-part posting on this fabulous extravaganza: Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York at the Museum of the City of New York, “a groundbreaking exhibition that explores New York’s role as a beacon for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) artists seeking freedom, acceptance, and community.”

Freedom. Acceptance. Community. A tripartite motto to which we could add equality (different from acceptance), echoing the Brotherhood of man of the Third Republic of France. In these days of Lumpism, we do have an idea how important these concepts are – for our civil liberties, for our sexual freedom, and for our right, our write, to choose and voice an opinion which is different from that of the oligarchy. We know we have to stand up to these bigots.

Freedom to be ourselves has always been at the core of GLBTQI identity. Our Point of Difference (#POD).

While I came out in London six short years after Stonewall, and was wearing silver hair, eye shadow, rings on every hand and pink and cream satin bomber jackets in London in the 1970s, many of the people pictured in this posting had no doubt endured numerous persecutions for who they were many years before it was acceptable to be GLBTQI. And still today in many parts of the world (Russia, Papua New Guinea, South America, and Africa) GLBTQI people face discrimination and death.

But do you know what?

The world would be a much poorer, less creative place without all of the GLBTQI people who have lived over all of the centuries of human existence… continuing to be themselves in the face of adversity and resentment. Continuing to enrich the lives of themselves and other human beings.

Are we going away? Hell no!

I have spent hours researching the people in this posting, adding sound and video provided by the Museum of the City of New York. Because this information deserves to be out there on the WWW.

As we still strive for equality or even just existence in the world, our #POD, in New York or wherever – not our assimilation into the main stream – is what makes us relevant and interesting and emotional in this world. Long may it remain so.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

PS The dancing in the Audio and video excerpts from Filling Station (1938) and Billy the Kid (1938), especially the latter, are a joy to behold!

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Many thank to the Museum of the City of New York for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

1910 – 1960: Portraits

Richard Bruce Nugent

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Richard Bruce Nugent
(July 2, 1906 – May 27, 1987), aka Richard Bruce and Bruce Nugent, was a writer and painter in the Harlem Renaissance. (The Harlem Renaissance, a cultural, social, and artistic explosion that took place in Harlem, New York spanned from about 1918 until the mid-1930s). One of many gay artists of the Harlem Renaissance, he was one of few who was out publicly. Recognized initially for the few short stories and paintings that were published, Nugent had a long productive career bringing to light the creative process of gay and black culture. …

During his career in Harlem, Nugent lived with writer Wallace Thurman from 1926 – 1928 which led to the publishing of “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade” in Thurman’s publication “Fire!!!”. The short story was written in a modernist stream-of-consciousness style, its subject matter was bisexuality and more specifically interracial male desire. Many of his illustrations were featured in publications, such as “Fire!!!” along with his short story. Four of his paintings were included in the Harmon Foundation’s exhibition of Negro artists, which was one of the few venues available for black artists in 1931. His only stand-alone publication, “Beyond Where the Stars Stood Still,” was issued in a limited edition by Warren Marr II in 1945. …

Nugent’s aggressive and honest approach to homoerotic and interracial desire was not necessarily in the favor of his more discreet homosexual contemporaries. Alain Locke chastised the publication “Fire!!!” for its radicalism and specifically Nugent’s “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade” for promoting the effeminacy and decadence associated with homosexual writers.

Nugent bridged the gap between the Harlem Renaissance and the black gay movement of the 1980s and was a great inspiration to many of his contemporaries… As one of the last survivors of the Harlem Renaissance, Nugent was a sought-after interview subject in his old age, consulted by numerous biographers and writers on both black and gay history. He was interviewed in the 1984 gay documentary, “Before Stonewall,” and his work was featured in Isaac Julien’s 1989 film, Looking for Langston.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Richard Bruce Nugent. 'Lucifer' 1930

 

Richard Bruce Nugent
Lucifer
1930
From the Salome series
Watercolor on cardstock
Art & Artifacts Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Richard Bruce Nugent. 'Drawing from Alexander Gumby's scrapbook' 1920s

 

Richard Bruce Nugent
Drawing from Alexander Gumby’s scrapbook
1920s
Ink on paper Alexander Gumby Collection of Negroiana, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

 

Richard Bruce Nugent. '"Drawings for Mulattoes" Number 2' 1927

 

Richard Bruce Nugent. '"Drawings for Mulattoes" Number 3' 1927

 

Richard Bruce Nugent
“Drawings for Mulattoes” Numbers 2 and 3
1927
Illustration in Ebony and Topaz: A Collectanea
Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University

 

Richard Bruce Nugent. 'Self-portrait' 1930s

 

Richard Bruce Nugent
Self-portrait
1930s
Pencil on paper
Art & Artifacts Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Richard Bruce Nugent. 'Smoke, Lilies and Jade' c. 1925

 

Richard Bruce Nugent
Smoke, Lilies and Jade
c. 1925
Mixed-media work
Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

 

Richard Bruce Nugent poems and prose read by Rodney Evans, director of the 2004 film Brother to Brother. Audio produced for the exhibition by Tim Cramer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mercedes de Acosta

Mercedes de Acosta (March 1, 1893 – May 9, 1968) was an American poet, playwright, and novelist. Four of de Acosta’s plays were produced, and she published a novel and three volumes of poetry. …

De Acosta was involved in numerous lesbian relationships with Broadway’s and Hollywood’s elite and she did not attempt to hide her sexuality; her uncloseted existence was very rare and daring in her generation. In 1916 she began an affair with actress Alla Nazimova and later with dancer Isadora Duncan. Shortly after marrying Abram Poole in 1920, de Acosta became involved in a five-year relationship with actress Eva Le Gallienne. De Acosta wrote two plays for Le Gallienne, Sandro Botticelli and Jehanne de Arc. After the financial failures of both plays they ended their relationship.

Over the next decade she was involved with several famous actresses and dancers including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Ona Munson, and Russian ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina. Additional unsubstantiated rumors include affairs with Pola Negri, Eleonora Duse, Katherine Cornell, and Alice B. Toklas.

An ardent liberal, de Acosta was committed to several political causes. Concerned about the Spanish Civil War, which began in 1936, for example, she supported the loyalist Republican government that opposed the fascist Franco regime. A tireless advocate for women’s rights, she wrote in her memoir, “I believed… in every form of independence for women and I was… an enrolled worker for women’s suffrage.” …

De Acosta’s best-known relationship was with Greta Garbo. When Garbo’s close friend, author Salka Viertel, introduced them in 1931, they quickly became involved. As their relationship developed, it became erratic and volatile with Garbo always in control. The two were very close sporadically and then apart for lengthy periods when Garbo, annoyed by Mercedes’ obsessive behaviour, coupled with her own neuroses, ignored her. In any case, they remained friends for thirty years during which time Garbo wrote de Acosta 181 letters, cards, and telegrams. About their friendship, Cecil Beaton, who was close to both women, recorded in his 1958 memoir, “Mercedes is [Garbo’s] very best friend and for 30 years has stood by her, willing to devote her life to her”.

De Acosta was described in 1955 by Garbo biographer, John Bainbridge, as “a woman of courtly manners, impeccable decorative taste and great personal elegance… a woman with a passionate and intense devotion to the art of living… and endowed with a high spirit, energy, eclectic curiosity and a varied interest in the arts.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

“After Cecil Beaton accompanied her to the theater one night in 1930, he wrote in his diary that he sensed people looking at him and questioning why he associated with “that furious lesbian.” She often boasted of her sexual prowess, saying “I can get any woman from any man.” There was perhaps justification for Alice B. Toklas’s observation, “Say what you will about Mercedes de Acosta, she’s had the most important women of the twentieth century.” …

Even though she avoided direct representation of same-sex eroticism in her writing, she freely “smuggled in” ideas and issues common to those of us in the homosexual community but she put them in a heterosexual setting. It is what one scholar calls “queening.”

Mercedes de Acosta was not hugely famous. Her contributions to the theater were minimal. Yet her story reveals a woman who stood up courageously for her beliefs and values. She seldom stumbled, even when her friends and peers turned against her. She lived her desire and paid the price. Her love for other women and her struggle for acceptance were certainly sources of her originality and fueled her writing. Perhaps the description of her as “that furious lesbian” should become an admirable attribute rather than a scornful slur.”

Robert A Schanke. “Mercedes de Acosta.”

 

Abram Poole. 'Mercedes de Acosta' 1923

 

Abram Poole
Mercedes de Acosta
1923
Oil on canvas
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of Mercedes de Acosta in honor of Ala Story

 

Abram Poole. 'Mercedes de Acosta' 1923 (detail)

 

Abram Poole
Mercedes de Acosta (detail)
1923
Oil on canvas
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of Mercedes de Acosta in honor of Ala Story

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Eva Le Gallienne in 'Jehanne d'Arc'' 1925

 

Anonymous photographer
Eva Le Gallienne in Jehanne d’Arc
1925
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Mercedes De Acosta

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Effie Shannon as Marie-Louise (left) and Michael Strange in the title role of 'L'Aiglon'' 1927

 

Anonymous photographer
Effie Shannon as Marie-Louise (left) and Michael Strange in the title role of L’Aiglon
1927
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York, Gift of Mr and Mrs Spencer Merriam Berger

 

Janet Flanner. 'Letter in the shape of a tulip from Janet Flanner to Mercedes de Acosta' 1928

 

Janet Flanner
Letter in the shape of a tulip from Janet Flanner to Mercedes de Acosta
1928
The Rosenbach, Philadelphia

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Cecil Beaton' Undated

 

George Platt Lynes
Cecil Beaton
Undated
Inscribed by Beaton to Mercedes de Acosta
The Rosenbach, Philadelphia

 

George Hoyningen-Huene. 'Mercedes de Acosta' 1934

 

George Hoyningen-Huene
Mercedes de Acosta
1934
Modern print
Courtesy The Rosenbach, Philadelphia

 

Cecil Beaton. 'From left, Alfred Stieglitz, Mercedes de Acosta, and Georgia O'Keeffe' c. 1943

 

Cecil Beaton
From left, Alfred Stieglitz, Mercedes de Acosta, and Georgia O’Keeffe
c. 1943
Gelatin silver print
The Rosenbach, Philadelphia

 

 

Works by Mercedes de Acosta works read by performers Moe Angelos and Carmelita Tropicana. Audio produced for the exhibition by Tim Cramer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Museum of the City of New York presents Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York, a groundbreaking exhibition that explores New York’s role as a beacon for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) artists seeking freedom, acceptance, and community.

The first exhibition of its kind to be presented by a New York City cultural institution in terms of depth and scope, Gay Gotham peels back the layers of New York City’s LGBT, or queer, life that thrived even in the shadows to reveal an often-hidden side of the city’s history and underscore the power of artistic collaboration to transcend oppression. The exhibition, which runs through February 26, 2017, will examine the worlds of New York’s famous LGBT cultural innovators, as well as those of ordinary citizens. The exhibition will also identify historical trends that led to the increased visibility of LGBT artists over the course of the 20th century.

“New York City, an international source of creativity throughout its history, provided the canvas, stage, and backdrop for LGBT artists and cultural innovators, and helped make it possible for them to transcend oppression and discrimination,” says Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York. “Gay Gotham not only exhibits, but also celebrates the vibrant lives of artists who were suffering from injustice, and offers optimism for tomorrow.”

Gay Gotham brings to life the queer networks that sprang up in the city from the early-20th century through the mid-1990s – a series of artistic subcultures whose radical ideas had lasting effects on the mainstream. It explores the artistic achievements and creative networks of ten individuals, as well as four key ways that such networks are made: place-making (making places to meet and work together); posing (creating portraits of friends and artists); printing (creating publications); and performing (representing LGBT life in theater and film). The show is also organized into three chronological sections, dividing LGBT art and underground culture in 20th century New York:

  • Visible Subcultures: 1910 – 1930
  • Open Secrets: 1930 – 1960
  • Out New York: 1960 – 1995

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Occupying two full galleries, Gay Gotham features 225 works from a mix of iconic and lesser-known LGBT artists, whose work will be presented chronologically to reveal the trajectory of queer life in 20th century New York: composer Leonard Bernstein; playwright, poet and novelist Mercedes de Acosta; activist Harmony Hammond; dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones; arts impresario Lincoln Kirstein; artist Greer Lankton; photographer George Platt Lynes; artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe; artist and author Richard Bruce Nugent; and artist Andy Warhol. Each of these individuals will be examined within the overlapping networks of numerous fellow artists and colleagues who advanced their professional careers, sustained their social lives, and propelled them into the city and nation’s cultural mainstream.

Gay Gotham, curated by Donald Albrecht, MCNY curator of architecture and design, and Stephen Vider, MCNY Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, includes paintings, drawings, photographs, sound recordings, and films that explore queer artistic achievements in music, the visual arts and theater during the 20th century. Ephemera such as correspondence and scrapbooks are also displayed, illuminating the artists’ personal bonds and revealing secrets that were scandal provoking in their time and remain largely unknown today.

On the impetus behind the show, Curator Donald Albrecht explained: “While exploring New York City’s gay artistic communities in past shows here at the Museum, I found them to be consistently hidden in plain sight and thought an exhibition ‘un-hiding’ these queer networks would be a revelation. Gay Gotham is the result, and I hope visitors gain an understanding of the cultural communities that formed as a response to injustice.”

Some of the works that will be featured in the show are: Bernstein’s own annotated copy of Romeo and Juliet, the inspiration for the 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story, alongside original drawings of the production’s sets and costumes; a circa 1970 handmade, collaged scrapbook by Robert Mapplethorpe that includes images of friends and lovers like Patti Smith; Arnie Zane’s video of Keith Haring hand painting the body of Zane’s partner, dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones – a collaboration of three leaders of the 1980s queer downtown art scene;  several of artist Greer Lankton’s dolls, including a life-size one of Diana Vreeland made in 1989 for a Barneys display window.

Joel Sanders Architects designed the exhibition to give spatial expression to the show’s two main themes: the people and places that allowed queer artistic life to flourish in New York City. On both floors of the exhibition, the perimeter gallery walls are painted a deep purple, the color traditionally associated with queer culture. The center of both galleries will feature maps setting artistic explorations against the evolving backdrops of LGBT life in New York City, including gay neighborhoods and nightspots, as well as activist groups and key social and cultural events, such as protests and parades.

Gay Gotham will be accompanied by a 304-page book, Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York, by Donald Albrecht, with Stephen Vider and published by Skira Rizzoli. It includes more than 350 images, illustrations and background essays on the social and cultural themes of the LGBT artistic underground, as well as portraits of the show’s iconic artistic figures.”

Press release from the Museum of the City of New York

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Lincoln Kirstein' 1940s-50s

 

George Platt Lynes
Lincoln Kirstein
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1985

 

 

Lincoln Kirstein

Lincoln Edward Kirstein (May 4, 1907 – January 5, 1996) was an American writer, impresario, art connoisseur, philanthropist, and cultural figure in New York City, noted especially as co-founder of the New York City Ballet. He developed and sustained the company with his organizing ability and fundraising for more than four decades, serving as the company’s General Director from 1946 to 1989. …

Beginning in 1919, Kirstein kept a diary continuing through the practice until the late 1930s. In a 2007 biography of Kirstein, The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein, Martin Duberman drew on his diaries, as well as Kirstein’s numerous letters. Kirstein wrote about enjoying sex with various men including Harvard undergraduates, sailors, street boys, and casual encounters in the showers at the 63rd St. YMCA. He had longer affairs with Pete Martinez, a dancer, Dan Maloney, an artist, and Jensen Yow, a conservator. Kirstein had both platonic relationships and many that started as casual sex and developed into long-term friendships…

Kirstein’s eclectic interests, ambition and keen interest in high culture, funded by independent means, drew a large circle of creative friends from many fields of the arts. These included: Glenway Wescott, George Platt Lynes, Jared French, Bernard Perlin, Pavel Tchelitchev, Katherine Anne Porter, Barbara Harrison, Gertrude Stein, Donald Windham, Cecil Beaton, Jean Cocteau, W. H. Auden, George Tooker, Margaret French Cresson, Walker Evans, Sergei Eisenstein and others. 

In his later years, Kirstein struggled with bipolar disorder – mania, depression, and paranoia. He destroyed the studio of friend Dan Maloney. He sometimes had to be constrained in a straitjacket for weeks at a psychiatric hospital. His illness did not generally affect his professional creativity until the end of his life.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Ballet in America

After seeing ballets by George Balanchine, including Prodigal Son (the first Balanchine work he was to experience) in 1929 and Les Ballets 1933 in Paris, Kirstein met the choreographer for the first time in London in 1933 and immediately invited him to work in the United States where together they would build an American ballet tradition. Balanchine’s response, “But, first a school.” is now part of ballet history. In 1934, the School of American Ballet opened its doors on Madison Avenue with Kirstein as president, a post he held until his retirement in 1989.

Together, Balanchine and Kirstein embarked on the creation of a permanent company to realize their vision. There would be four such enterprises before the establishment of New York City Ballet in 1948. The first of these, American Ballet Company, toured in the eastern United States and was the resident ballet troupe for the Metropolitan Opera (performing under the name American Ballet Ensemble) from 1935-1938. A second company, Ballet Caravan was founded in 1936 to tour and produced notably, among other American works, Lew Christensen’s Filling Station and Eugene Loring’s Billy the Kid with libretti by Kirstein. It was succeeded by American Ballet Caravan which made a much-acclaimed tour of South America in 1941 before disbanding. Upon Kirstein’s return to the States from military service in World War II, Ballet Society was founded in 1946 to present performances for a subscription audience. Following a 1948 performance of Orpheus, the invitation came from City Center’s then-Chairman of the Executive Committee, Morton Baum, to establish a resident company to be known as New York City Ballet as part of the City Center of Music and Drama. Kirstein became the Company’s General Director and served in that capacity until relinquishing the post in 1989. …

The distinguished English critic Clement Crisp has written, “Lincoln Kirstein was a man of protean gifts and immense intellectual and organizational energy. He was one of those rare talents who touched the entire artistic life of their time: ballet, film, literature, theater, paintings, sculpture, photography – all occupied his attention. These many and other seemingly disparate concerns were united by a guiding intelligence which was uncompromising and uncompromisingly generous and served as the artistic conscience of his era. This was the essentially American quality of his work: that desire to ameliorate and inspire a society to the goal of a more humane and imaginatively rich world. To a grand extent his work was as intermediary between the arts and a vast public who benefited from his genius.”

Classical dance amplified by Balanchine’s own genius, expressed perfectly Lincoln’s immovable conviction that each human being contains the seeds of perfectibility. When he was 28, a significant year, he wrote that ballet provided the means for the human body in heightened capability, to set a poetic standard for each person’s ideal capacity. And he wrote and worked toward that standard in connection with everything he cared for all his life. Lincoln’s unending personal struggles, and searching and learning, led him in turn to give so much of himself to others. With uncanny intuition he understood who each one of us was: artists, students, friends, supporters alike were woven into a family with common cause.

Text from the New York City Ballet website

 

Lincoln Kirstein. 'Blast at Ballet: A Corrective for the American Audience' (Marstin Press, New York) 1938

 

Lincoln Kirstein
Blast at Ballet: A Corrective for the American Audience (Marstin Press, New York)
1938
Private collection

 

George Platt Lynes. 'From left, Michael Kidd, Beatrice Tomkins, and Ruby Asquith in 'Billy the Kid'' 1938, printed c. 1953

 

George Platt Lynes
From left, Michael Kidd, Beatrice Tomkins, and Ruby Asquith in Billy the Kid
1938, printed c. 1953
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1985

 

Paul Cadmus. '"Ray" costume design for the ballet 'Filling Station'' 1937

 

Paul Cadmus
“Ray” costume design for the ballet Filling Station
1937
Gouache, pencil, and ink on paper
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1941

 

 

Paul Cadmus

In the gorgeous, occasionally garish, always gratifying works of the great American artist Paul Cadmus, sailors and sunbathers, models and mannequins, nitwits and nudes all are suffused with a sensuality born equally of idyllic splendor and urban squalor, natural grace and graceful artifice. Active since the 1930s as a renderer of pretty boys and ugly ploys, Cadmus has spent many remarkable decades honing a singularly complex style of idealized sexuality and vivid displeasure in justly celebrated paintings, drawings and etchings of nude figures, fantastical scenes and supercharged allegories.

While often working quite deliberately in the genres of social satire and community critique, Cadmus is just as compelling when exploring the personal and political proclivities of bodies in rest and motion. Male bodies, that is. More than most artists of his substantial stature, Cadmus has detailed with exquisite tenderness and unblinking bluntness the manner in which gay males – and the gay male gaze – represent the polemics of aesthetics. …

As much as some younger artists would like to see Cadmus adopt the persona of nonagenarian poster boy for Gay Y2K, he’s generally content to let his images speak for themselves. That’s his choice to make; more perplexing, frankly, is the majority of critical writing on Cadmus that blatantly ignores his gay perspective and homoerotic imagery. Lincoln Kirstein, founding director of the New York City Ballet and the artist’s self-defined bisexual brother-in-law (married to Cadmus’s sister, Fidelma), wrote the “definitive” Cadmus monograph with nary a mention of the artist’s crucial homoeroticism, preferring to tiptoe around the truth with statements like, “As for sexual factors, he has without ostentation or polemic long celebrated somatic health in boys and young men for its symbolic range of human possibility. His addiction to aspects of physical splendor has never been provocative, sly, nor ambitious to proselytize.”

I wish Kirstein had taken a more careful look at the slender lad sporting a box kite and a noticeable bulge in “Aviator,” or the mine’s-bigger-than-yours posturing and relentless cruising on display in “Y.M.C.A. Locker Room” … Even more telling is “Manikins,” in which two small artist’s models lovingly do the nasty atop a copy of Corydon, André Gide’s plea for queer rights.

Steven Jenkins. “Paul Cadmus: The Body Politic,” on the Queer Arts Resource website

 

 

Excerpts from Filling Station, a seminal ballet with an American theme and setting, choreographed and performed by Lew Christensen with Ballet Caravan (1938). Perhaps the most enduring and popular work by Christensen, the comic ballet combined classical dancing with vaudevillian antics.

And excerpts from Billy the Kid (1938) a ballet written by the American composer Aaron Copland on commission from Lincoln Kirstein. It was choreographed by Eugene Loring for Ballet Caravan. Along with Rodeo and Appalachian Spring, it is one of Copland’s most popular and widely performed pieces.

With permission of the Museum of the City of New York for Art Blart.

 

 

George Platt Lynes

The greatest photographer of the male nude the world has ever seen – George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955).

Lynes worked as a fashion photographer in his own studio in New York (which he opened in 1932) before moving to Hollywood in 1946 where he took the post of Chief Photographer for the Vogue studios. Although an artistic success the sojourn was a financial failure and he returned to New York in 1948. Although continuing his commercial work he became disinterested in it, concentrating his energies on photographing the male nude. He began a friendship with Dr Alfred Kinsey of the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana and helped with his sex research. Between 1949 and 1955, Lynes sold and donated much of his erotic nudes to Kinsey.1 By May 1955 he had been diagnosed terminally ill with lung cancer. He closed his studio. He destroyed much of his print and negative archives particularly his male nudes. However, it is now known that he had transferred many of these works to the Kinsey Institute. After a final trip to Europe, Lynes returned to New York City where he died.

See my full text George Platt Lynes and the male nude including many photographs and another text by Associate Professor Elspeth H. Brown (University of Toronto).

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Self-Portrait, in Tights' 1948

 

George Platt Lynes
Self-Portrait, in Tights
1948
Gelatin silver print
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Gift, Anonymous and In Kind
Canada, 1998

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Marsden Hartley' 1942

 

George Platt Lynes
Marsden Hartley
1942
Gelatin silver print
Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection, Bates College Museum of Art

 

George Platt Lynes. 'George Tooker at 5 St. Luke's Place, New York, with Paul Cadmus and Jared French in Mirror' c. 1940

 

George Platt Lynes
George Tooker at 5 St. Luke’s Place, New York, with Paul Cadmus and Jared French in Mirror
c. 1940
Vintage silver print
Estate of George Tooker, Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

 

 

George Tooker

George Clair Tooker, Jr. (August 5, 1920 – March 27, 2011) was an American figurative painter. His works are associated with Magic realism, Social realism, Photorealism and Surrealism. His subjects are depicted naturally as in a photograph, but the images use flat tones, an ambiguous perspective, and alarming juxtapositions to suggest an imagined or dreamed reality. He did not agree with the association of his work with Magic realism or Surrealism, as he said, “I am after painting reality impressed on the mind so hard that it returns as a dream, but I am not after painting dreams as such, or fantasy.” …

His most well known paintings carry strong social commentary, and are often characterized as his “public” or “political” pieces. Some of these include: The Subway (1950), Government Bureau (1955-1956), The Waiting Room (1956-1957), Lunch (1964), Teller (1967), Waiting Room II (1982), Corporate Decision (1983), and Terminal (1986). These works are particularly influential, because they draw from universal experiences of modern, urban life. Many portray visually literal depictions of social withdrawal and isolation. In many ways, these images reveal the negative side of the subject matter celebrated in Impressionism. Modernity’s anonymity, mass-production, and fast pace are cast under an unforgiving, bleak, shadow-less light that conveys a sense of foreboding and isolation…

While Tooker’s “public” imagery is hostile and solemn, his “private” images are often more intimate and positive. Some of these include the ten images of the Windows series (1955-1987), Doors (1953), Guitar (1957), Toilette (1962), and the Mirror series (1962-1971). Many of these images juxtapose beauty and ugliness, youth and age, in the analysis of the female body. The space is often compressed by a curtain or close-up wall, so that the viewer is confronted by the symbolic identity of the protagonist.

Text from the Wikipedia website

“Mr. Cadmus’s exuberant use of homosexual themes in his work also encouraged Mr. Tooker to address that aspect of his identity in paintings like the terrifying, Bruegel-esque “Children and Spastics” (1946), in which a group of leering sadists torment three frail, effeminate men.

Equally influential was Jared French, part of Mr. Cadmus’s intimate circle, whose interest in Jungian archetypes and in the frigid, inscrutable forms of archaic Greek and Etruscan art inspired Mr. Tooker to take a more symbolic, mythic approach to his subject matter.”

William Grimes. “George Tooker, Painter Capturing Modern Anxieties, Dies at 90,” on The New York Times website, March 29, 2011

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Jared French' 1938

 

George Platt Lynes
Jared French
1938
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1941

 

 

Jared French

Born in Ossining, New York, French received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Amherst College in 1925. Soon after this he met and befriended Paul Cadmus (1904-1999) in New York City, who became his lover. French persuaded Cadmus to give up commercial art for what he deemed, “serious painting”.

Jungian psychology is thought to have played an important influence upon the dream-like imagery in the paintings of French’s maturity. The highly stylized, archaic-looking figures in his paintings suggest that they are representative of the ancestral memory of all mankind, what Carl Jung called “the collective unconscious”. French himself was never explicit about the sources of his imagery, although on a stylistic level, the influence of early Italian Renaissance paintings by such masters as Mantegna and Piero della Francesca is evident, as it is also in the work of both Tooker and Cadmus. On the level of content, he made only one, short, public statement regarding his intentions:

“My work has long been concerned with the representation of diverse aspects of man and his universe. At first it was mainly concerned with his physical aspect and his physical universe. Gradually I began to represent aspects of his psyche, until in ‘The Sea’ (1946) and ‘Evasion’ (1947), I showed quite clearly my interest in man’s inner reality.” …

In 1938, French and Cadmus posed for a series photographs with the noted photographer George Platt Lynes (1907-1955). These photographs were not published or exhibited while Lynes was living and show the intimacy and relationship of the two. In the photographs, 14 of which survive today, the subjects, Cadmus and French, vacillate between exposure and concealment, with French generally being the more exhibitionist of the two. Cadmus stated that French was the model for all four male figures in his 1935 painting, Gilding the Acrobats, as well as his 1931 painting, Jerry.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Jared French. 'Billy the Kid costume sketch for "Billy's Last Act"' 1938

 

Jared French
Billy the Kid costume sketch for “Billy’s Last Act”
1938
Watercolour and pencil on printed paper on cardboard with ink and pencil
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1941

 

Jared French. 'Billy the Kid costume sketch for "Billy's Last Act"' 1938 (detail)

 

Jared French
Billy the Kid costume sketch for “Billy’s Last Act” (detail)
1938
Watercolour and pencil on printed paper on cardboard with ink and pencil
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1941

 

Jared French. 'Billy the Kid costume sketch for "Alias as Drunken Cowboy"' 1938

 

Jared French
Billy the Kid costume sketch for “Alias as Drunken Cowboy”
1938
Watercolour on paper on cardboard with felt-tip pen
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1941

 

Jared French. 'Billy the Kid costume sketch for "Alias as Drunken Cowboy"' 1938 (detail)

 

Jared French
Billy the Kid costume sketch for “Alias as Drunken Cowboy” (detail)
1938
Watercolour on paper on cardboard with felt-tip pen
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1941

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Fidelma Cadmus Kirstein' 1941

 

George Platt Lynes
Fidelma Cadmus Kirstein
1941
Gelatin silver print
George Platt Lynes Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Orpheus (Nicholas Magallanes and Francisco Moncion)' 1950

 

George Platt Lynes
Orpheus (Nicholas Magallanes and Francisco Moncion)
1950
Modern print
Courtesy ClampArt, New York

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Jimmie Daniels' Undated

 

George Platt Lynes
Jimmie Daniels
Undated
Gelatin silver print
George Platt Lynes Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

 

 

A fresh-faced teenager, Jimmie Daniels arrived in Harlem sometime during the mid-1920’s. He was lithe, delicate, and had an engaging, infectious smile that he would soon learn to use to his advantage. Singer Alberta Hunter, a lifelong friend, remembered the time well. “This one was just a little one” she said. “Handsome? Oh, was he handsome! He had hair as red as fire, and his folks had money.” Dare anyone have said that they thought the young, refined singer with the impeccable style, grace and proper enunciation was just a little snobbish and pretentious too?

It wouldn’t have mattered! It certainly would not have stopped the young, attractive Daniels from enjoying the ride of his youth, and becoming one of the most popular cafe singers and masters of ceremonies of the Harlem Renaissance. In demand from New York to Paris, these accomplishments were but stepping stones toward bigger and better things. Fortunately, the journey was documented by some of the leading photographers and artists of the time like George Platt Lynes, Carl Van Vechten and Richmond Barthe. And having several high profile, rich white boyfriends didn’t hurt him not one bit!

Text from the Fire Island Pines History website

 

 

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02
Jan
16

Exhibitions: ‘Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008’ and ‘Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection’ at the Brooklyn Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 20th November 2015 – 13th March 2016

Curator of Coney Island exhibition: Dr Robin Jaffee Frank

 

 

The first posting of 2016, and it is a doozy – a multimedia extravaganza of sight and sound showcasing exhibitions that focus on that eclectic playground, Coney Island.

Featuring images supplied by the gallery – plus videos, other art work featured in the exhibitions and texts that I sourced myself – this posting documents “the luridness of the sideshow acts, the drunk sailors, the amorous couples and the scantily dressed bathers who were so much a part of the allure and menace of Coney Island.” I spent many hours scouring the internet, undertaking research and cleaning poor quality images to bring this selection to you.

The exhibition is divided into five sections, and I have attempted to keep the posting in this chronological order.

  • Down at Coney Isle, 1861-94
  • The World’s Greatest Playground, 1895-1929
  • The Nickel Empire, 1930-39
  • A Coney Island of the Mind, 1940-61
  • Requiem for a Dream, 1962-2008

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There are some interesting art works in both exhibitions. The correspondence between elephant/handler and mural is delightful in Edgar S. Thomson’s Coney Island (1897, below), while Joseph Stella’s Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras (1913-14, below) is a revelation to me, considering the date of production and the portrayal of contemporary life which is akin to our own. Walker Evans’ Couple at Coney Island, New York (1928, below) seems staged and confused in its pictorial construction, not one of his better photographs, while Edward J. Kelty’s photographs of sideshow revues including a “coloured revue” are interesting for their social context and formalism.

Paul Cadmus’ satirical view of American vacationers Coney Island (1934, below) is a riot of colour, movement and social commentary, including references to homosexuality and Hitler, while his friend Reginald Marsh’s effusive Coney Island paintings play with “reimagined bathers and sideshow audiences in poses derived from Michelangelo and Rubens” packed into compressed, collage like spaces. Particular favourites are photographs by Garry Winograd, Bruce Davidson, Diane Arbus and Robert Frank. Surprise of the posting are the black and white photographs of Morris Engel.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Brooklyn Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The mixed-media exhibit captures Coney Island’s campy, trippy aesthetic with a hodgepodge of photographs by the likes of Walker Evans, Weegee, Bruce Davidson, and Diane Arbus (since Coney Island was basically tailor-made for a Diane Arbus photo shoot). Also on view are pastoral seascapes from the 1800s; sideshow posters galore; a turn-of-the-century gambling wheel and carousel animals presented like sculpture; film stills from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream; and a modernist abstract composition by Frank Stella. With red and yellow stripes around a blue square, Stella distills the sand and sea and sun into a primary-colored flag for Brooklyn’s most famous destination.

In these pictures, Coney Island serves as a microcosm of American mass culture as a whole, and the chronology of 140 art objects here chart major societal shifts, from the dawn of the Great Depression to desegregation. “The modern American mass-culture industry was born at Coney Island, and the constant novelty of the resort made it a seductively liberating subject for artists,” Dr Robin Jaffee Frank, curator of the exhibit, which Wadsworth Athenaeum helped organize, said in a statement. “What these artists saw from 1861 to 2008 at Coney Island, and the varied ways in which they chose to portray it, mirrored the aspirations and disappointments of the era and the country. Taken together, these tableaux of wonder and menace, hope and despair, dreams and nightmares become metaphors for the collective soul of a nation.”

Carey Dunne. “Dreamland as Muse: A Look Back at 150 Years of Coney Island Art, Photography, and Film,” on the Brooklyn Magazine website 17/08/2015 [Online] Cited 02/01/2016

 

 

Samuel S. Carr (American, 1837–1908). 'Beach Scene' c. 1879

 

Samuel S. Carr (American, 1837-1908)
Beach Scene
c. 1879
Oil on canvas
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8 cm)
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts; Bequest of Annie Swan Coburn (Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn)

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company. 'The great Forepaugh & Sells Brothers shows combined' c. 1899

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company
The great Forepaugh & Sells Brothers shows combined. Terrific flights over ponderous elephants by a company of twenty five splendid artists in a great contest for valuable prizes, introducing high, long distance, layout, twisting, single and double somersault leapers, enlivened by mirth provoking comedy surprises.
Promotional poster for Forepaugh & Sells Brothers circus
c. 1899
Color lithograph poster

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company. 'The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth /The Great Coney Island Water Carnival /Remarkable Head-Foremost Dives from Enormous Heights into Shallow Depths of Water' 1898

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company
The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth /The Great Coney Island Water Carnival /Remarkable Head-Foremost Dives from Enormous Heights into Shallow Depths of Water
1898
Color lithograph poster
30 1/6 x 38 3/4 in. (76.6 x 98.4 cm)
Cincinnati Art Museum; Gift of the Strobridge Lithographing Company

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company. 'Beach and boardwalk scenes, Coney Island' c. 1898

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company
Beach and boardwalk scenes, Coney Island
c. 1898
Color lithograph foldout poster
approx. 21 feet long

 

George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887). 'Bathers, Steel Pier, Coney Island' c. 1880–85

 

George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887)
Bathers, Steel Pier, Coney Island
c. 1880-85, printed 1940s
Gelatin silver photograph
7 5/8 x 12 in. (19.4 x 30.5 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection
Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s–1900s). 'Coney Island' 1897

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s-1900s)
Coney Island
1897
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
4 x 5 in. (10.2 x 12.7 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s–1900s). 'Coney Island' 1897 (detail)

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s-1900s)
Coney Island (detail)
1897
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
4 x 5 in. (10.2 x 12.7 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

William Merritt Chase (American, 1849–1916). 'Landscape, near Coney Island' c. 1886

 

William Merritt Chase (American, 1849-1916)
Landscape, near Coney Island
c. 1886
Oil on panel
8 1/8 x 12 5/8 in. (20.6 x 32 cm)
The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, New York; Gift of Mary H. Beeman to the Pruyn Family Collection

 

Joseph Stella. 'Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras' 1913-14

 

Joseph Stella
Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras
1913-14
Oil on canvas
77 by 84¾ inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

 

 

“In 1913, to celebrate Mardi Gras, Joseph Stella took a bus ride to Coney Island that changed his life. The Italian immigrant painter remembered that up until this point he had been “struggling … working along the lines of the old masters, seeking to portray a civilization long since dead.” He continued:

“Arriving at the Island I was instantly struck by the dazzling array of lights. It seemed as if they were in conflict. I was struck with the thought that here was what I had been unconsciously seeking for so many years… On the spot was born the idea for my first truly great picture.” (Joseph Stella, “I Knew Him When (1924),” in Barbara Haskell, ed., Joseph Stella, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, distributed by Harry N. Abrams, 1994, p. 206)

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The result of Stella’s revelation, the enormous oil painting Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras (1913-14), was the inspiration for the traveling exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008

If the broken planes and neon coloring of Stella’s painting suggest the exhilaration of contemporary life, they also express dislocation and alienation. Stella himself spoke of the “dangerous pleasures” of Coney Island, implying that its unleashing of desires could provoke anxiety (Joseph Stella, “Autobiographical Notes (1946),” in Barbara Haskell, ed., Joseph Stella, p. 213). And yet for all of the dynamism of Stella’s aesthetic, his painting’s sweeping arabesques are checked by the rectangle of the picture plane, and its decorative unity distances the disruptive power of its discordant subjects. The contained anarchy of Stella’s painting is the perfect metaphor for Coney Island’s manipulation and control of the unruly masses, who, at the end of the day, go back to their homes and their ordered existence.

Looking closely at Battle of Lights we might be able to make out fragments of actual rides and even shapes that suggest people, but Stella’s abstraction obscures the luridness of the sideshow acts, the drunk sailors, the amorous couples and the scantily dressed bathers who were so much a part of the allure and menace of Coney Island.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872–1960). 'Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island' 1912

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872-1960)
Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island
1912
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872–1960). 'Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island' 1912 (detail)

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872-1960)
Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island (detail)
1912
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

 

Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle (director)
Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton (actors)
Coney Island
1917
25 mins – short, comedy

 

The 5th film starring the duo of Buster Keaton & Fatty Arbuckle, who also directed. Taking place at the Coney Island amusement park of New York City, it’s notable as the only film where Buster Keaton is seen laughing as this is before he developed his “Great Stoneface” persona.

 

Gambling Wheel, 1900–20

 

Gambling Wheel
1900-20
Wood, glass, metal
65 x 14 in. (165.1 x 35.6 cm)
Collection of The New-York Historical Society; Purchase

 

Charles Carmel. 'Carousel Horse with Raised Head, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York' c. 1914

 

Charles Carmel
Carousel Horse with Raised Head, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York
c. 1914
Paint on wood, jewels, glass eyes, horsehair tail
62 x 58 x 14 in. (157.5 x 147.3 x 36.6 cm)
Collection of American Folk Art Museum, New York; Gift of Laura Harding

 

 

Born in Russia in 1865, Charles Carmel and his young bride immigrated to the U.S. in 1883 and lived in Brooklyn for most of their lives. Charles was a perfectionist in his work and a disciplinarian with his family. Their home was located close to Prospect Park and its stable of riding horses, which served as a source of inspiration for Charles’ carousel horse carving work. It is generally accepted that Charles Carmel carved carousel horses from 1905 to 1920, and sold his work to all of the major carousel manufacturers of the time including Dolle, Borelli, Murphy, and Mangels.

In 1911 Charles invested most of his money in a newly constructed carousel that he intended to operate on Coney Island. The day before the park was to open, a fire totally destroyed the amusement park along with the uninsured carousel. This was a devastating financial blow to the Carmel family. Later his health deteriorated due to diabetes and arthritis until Charles closed his shop and carved a few hours a day at home, filling orders. Charles died in 1933 of cancer, but his legacy lives on with the exquisite carousel animals that he produced throughout his life.

Text from the Gesa Carousel of Dreams website

 

Anonymous artist. 'Looping the Loop, Coney Island' 1901-10

 

Anonymous artist
Looping the Loop, Coney Island
1901-10
Private Collection

 

Walker Evans. 'Couple at Coney Island, New York' 1928

 

Walker Evans
Couple at Coney Island, New York
1928
Gelatin silver print
8 x 5 13/16 inches
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Ford Motor Company Collection. Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) 'X-ray of Ajax, the sword swallower' 1928

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967)
X-ray of Ajax, “The Sword Swallower”
1928
20 x 20 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-–1967) 'Wonderland Circus Sideshow, Coney Island' 1929

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-–1967)
Wonderland Circus Sideshow, Coney Island
1929
Collection of Ken Harck
© Edward J. Kelty

 

Edward J. Kelty. 'Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island' 1930

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-–1967)
Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island
1930
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8 cm)
Collection of Ken Harck
© Edward J. Kelty

 

Edward J. Kelty. 'Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island' 1930 (detail)

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-–1967)
Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island (detail)
1930
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8 cm)
Collection of Ken Harck
© Edward J. Kelty

 

Milton Avery (American, 1885–1965). 'The Steeplechase, Coney Island' 1929

 

Milton Avery (American, 1885-1965)
The Steeplechase, Coney Island
1929
Oil on canvas, 32 x 40 in. (81.3 x 101.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Gift of Sally M. Avery, 1984
Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, courtesy of Art Resource, New York
© 2013 Milton Avery Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Paul Cadmus. 'Coney Island' 1934

 

Paul Cadmus
Coney Island
1934
Oil on canvas
32 7/16 x 36 5/16 inches
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Gift of Peter Paanakker

 

 

Paul Cadmus’s “Coney Island” takes a satirical view of American vacationers. The fleshy members of the human pyramid seem carefree and frivolous in light of the ominous rise to power of the Nazi Party in Germany (Hitler’s face can be seen printed on the magazine resting on the sleeping man’s chest at the bottom of the painting).

 

“… Paul Cadmus, who shared Marsh’s use of old-master forms and techniques but not his heterosexuality, filled his beach painting with purposely ugly women and mostly beautiful men. The main action in Cadmus’s Coney Island (1934) is the human pyramid of men and women at its center. And yet the Adonis who lies on his stomach in the foreground has no interest in this heterosexual game. Instead, he looks off at another muscular youth farther down the beach. For Marsh, Cadmus and their fellow Coney Island artists, the chance to gaze unabashedly at the body of a stranger was one of the great pleasures of the milieu.

… traditional figuration, like that of Cadmus and Marsh, is so dominant that the exhibition arguably offers an alternate history of American art – one in which the modernist painting of Milton Avery or Frank Stella seems like a sideshow. Breaking out of the canon of modernism, “Coney Island” puts new focus on neglected realist painters like Harry Roseland, Robert Riggs, George Tooker and a particular favorite of mine, Henry Koerner.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

“Coney Island was the first painting Cadmus made after he ceased working for the federally sponsored Public Works of Art Project. It is typical of his paintings of the period in both theme and form. Cadmus viewed the prosaic activity of bathing on a beach in devastatingly satirical terms. Poking fun at the bathers’ carefree pleasures, Cadmus accumulated an odd assortment of bulging, burnt bodies. The bathers are oblivious to their ridiculous appearance and uncouth behaviour. Swarming the beach, their bodies are strangely intertwined, their faces smiling inanely. Everything is exaggerated, the color verging on the garish to intensify their grossness. In the 1930s Cadmus used oil paint almost as if it were a graphic medium, consequently Coney Island looks more like a tinted drawing than a painting. His small, exacting brushstrokes impart a flickering quality to the surface, which intensifies the impression that the figures are in constant motion. Cadmus actually began to sketch the scene on Martha’s Vineyard, before he visited Coney Island. He was attracted to the Brooklyn beach because it offered him the opportunity to delineate the human figure with as little clothing as possible. Moreover, he considered the beach scene to be a classical subject. His treatment, however, is rather baroque.

As was his friend Reginald Marsh, Cadmus was attracted to the elaborate compositions of old master paintings. Coney Island, with its seminude figures arranged in complex groupings, their bodies twisted and in constant motion, was for Cadmus the twentieth-century version of a baroque allegorical composition. Cadmus claimed that his intent was not to be sensational, but when the painting was exhibited in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s second biennial, it suffered the same hostile reception as did his earlier The Fleet’s In!. The Coney Island Showmen’s League, a local trade group, denounced the painting as offensive and inaccurate and threatened a libel suit if the painting was not removed from the exhibition. According to the artist’s incomplete records, it seems that the painting was rejected from several annual exhibitions to which it was submitted soon after it was shown at the Whitney biennial, probably because of the controversy it stirred. In 1935 Cadmus produced an etching from a photograph of the painting in the hope that it would reach a larger public. In the etching the image is reversed but otherwise differs only in a few minor details.”

Text from the LACMA website

 

Reginald Marsh. 'Pip and Flip' 1932

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954)
Pip and Flip
1932
Tempera on paper mounted on canvas
48 1/4 x 48 1/4 in.
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago
Daniel J. Terra Collection

 

 

“Such bodies were the great subjects of Reginald Marsh. Instead of Stella’s spirals of lights abstracted and seen from a distance, Marsh’s George C. Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park (1936) gives us a close-up view of the Human Roulette Wheel where young women are spun into all kinds of unladylike postures. For the Yale-educated Marsh, Coney Island was a chance to go “slumming,” to mingle with the lower classes on the beach and in the amusement parks. Hostile to modernism and abstract art, he reimagined bathers and sideshow audiences in poses derived from Michelangelo and Rubens. And yet, like Stella, Marsh overpacked his Coney Island paintings so that every inch is activated and in motion like a carnival ride. The highly compressed space of a Marsh painting like Pip and Flip (1932, above)with its collagelike play of rectangular billboards advertising human-oddity sideshows, would be unthinkable without the precedent of Cubism that he supposedly detested.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Human Roulette Wheel at Steeplechase Park, Coney Island, early 1900s

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898–1954). 'Wooden Horses' 1936

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954)
Wooden Horses
1936
Tempera on board, 24 x 40 in. (61 x 101.6 cm)
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut; The Dorothy Clark Archibald and Thomas L. Archibald Fund, The Krieble Family Fund for American Art, The American Paintings Purchase Fund, and The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund
Photo: © 2013 Estate of Reginald Marsh/Art Students League, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Reginald Marsh. 'George Tilyou's Steeplechase Park' 1936

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954)
George Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park
1936
Oil and egg tempera on linen mounted on fiberboard
30 1/8 x 40 1/8 in. (76.5 x 101.8 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation

 

Steeplechase Mechanical Horse Ride at Steeplechase Park, Coney Island, early 1900s

 

 

 

“The spirit of Coney Island comes alive with Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 on view at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition traces the evolution of the Coney Island phenomenon from tourist destination during the Civil War to the World’s Greatest Playground to a site of nostalgia. Covering a period of 150 years, the exhibition features 140 objects, including paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, artifacts, carousel animals, ephemera, and film clips. Also on view is Forever Coney, 42 photographs from the Brooklyn Museum collection.

An extraordinary array of artists have viewed Coney Island as a microcosm of the American experience and used their works to investigate the area as both a place and an idea. Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland offers up early depictions of “the people’s beach” by Impressionists William Merritt Chase and John Henry Twachtman; modernist depictions of the amusement park by Joseph Stella; Depression-era scenes of cheap thrills by Reginald Marsh; photographs by Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Weegee, and Bruce Davidson; and contemporary works by Daze and Swoon.

“The modern American mass-culture industry was born at Coney Island, and the constant novelty of the resort made it a seductively liberating subject for artists,” said Dr Robin Jaffee Frank, exhibition curator. “What these artists saw from 1861 to 2008 at Coney Island, and the varied ways in which they chose to portray it, mirrored the aspirations and disappointments of the era and the country. Taken together, these tableaux of wonder and menace, hope and despair, dreams and nightmares become metaphors for the collective soul of a nation.”

Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 is organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut. The Brooklyn presentation is organized by Connie H. Choi, Assistant Curator, Arts of the Americas and Europe, Brooklyn Museum. A fully illustrated 304-page catalogue, co-published by Yale University Press and the Wadsworth Athenaeum, incorporates the first continuous visual analysis of great works of art about Coney Island by Dr Frank as well as essays by distinguished cultural historians.”

Forever Coney

As one of America’s first seaside resorts, Coney Island has attracted adventurous visitors and undergone multiple transformations, inspiring photographers since the mid-nineteenth century. Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection features forty-two images that celebrate the people and places that make up Coney Island. The earliest works, taken by photographers such as George Bradford Brainerd and Irving Underhill, document the resort from the post-Civil War period through the turn of the twentieth century. Later artists such as Harry Lapow and Stephen Salmieri have photographed the many personalities that have passed through the site.

The photographers included in this exhibition are George Bradford Brainerd, Lynn Hyman Butler, Anita Chernewski, Victor Friedman, Kim Iacono, Sidney Kerner, Harry Lapow, Nathan Lerner, Jack Lessinger, H.S. Lewis, John L. Murphy, Ben Ross, Stephen Salmieri, Edgar S. Thomson, Arthur Tress, Irving Underhill, Breading G. Way, Eugene Wemlinger, and Harvey R. Zipkin. Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection is organized by Connie H. Choi, Assistant Curator of American Art, Brooklyn Museum. It is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008.

Text from the Brooklyn Museum website

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918–2005). 'Coney Island Embrace, New York City' 1938

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005)
Coney Island Embrace, New York City
1938
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 x 11 1/2 inches
Orkin/Engel Film and Photo Archive, New York
© Morris Engel

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005) 'Mother with Children' 1938

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005)
Mother with Children
1938
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Orkin/Engel Film and Photo Archive, New York

 

Nieman Studios, Inc., Chicago. 'Shackles the Great' 1940

 

Nieman Studios, Inc., Chicago
Shackles the Great
1940
Sideshow banner
118 x 108 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

'Quito, Human Octopus' 1940

 

Quito, Human Octopus
1940
Sideshow banner
140 x 117 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

Anon. 'Steeplechase Funny Face' nd

 

Steeplechase Funny Face
Nd
Painted metal
23 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

Henry Koerner (America, born Austria, 1915–1991). 'The Barker’s Booth' 1948–49

 

Henry Koerner (America, born Austria, 1915-1991)
The Barker’s Booth
1948-49
Oil on Masonite
26 x 40 ½ in. (66 x 102.9 cm)
Collection of Alice A. Grossman

 

George Tooker. 'Coney Island' 1948

 

George Tooker
Coney Island
1948
Egg tempera on gesso panel
19 1/4 x 26 1/4 inches
Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis

 

George Tooker’s thought-provoking “Coney Island” places traditional beach goers in a Pietà tableau.

 

Arthur Fellig (Weegee) 'Coney Island' 1940

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig)
Coney Island Beach
1940
Gelatin silver print
8 1/8 x 10 inches
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

 

 

Looking at Weegee’s photograph, it is easy to be carried away with longing for what seems like a simpler and happier time. Undoubtedly, the picture’s sense of naïve jubilation was part of its appeal for Red Grooms, who essentially copied the image in paint for Weegee 1940 (1998-99). And yet, like much at Coney Island, Weegee’s photograph is an illusion. Taken when Europe was already at war and the Depression had not yet ended, its merriment was only a momentary respite.

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Unknown artist. 'Modern Venus of 1947' Coney Island, 1947

 

Unknown artist
Modern Venus of 1947
Coney Island, 1947
Gelatin silver photograph
10 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. (27.3 x 35.2 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection
Photo: Christine Gant, Brooklyn Museum

 

Unknown artist. 'Modern Venus of 1947, Coney Island, 1947' (detail)

 

Unknown artist
Modern Venus of 1947 (detail)
Coney Island, 1947
Gelatin silver photograph
10 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. (27.3 x 35.2 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection
Photo: Christine Gant, Brooklyn Museum

 

Homer Page (American, 1918–1985). 'Coney Island' July 30, 1949

 

Homer Page (American, 1918-1985)
Coney Island
July 30, 1949
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Gift of the Hall Family Foundation
© Homer Page
Photo: John Lamberton

 

Morris Engel. 'Little Fugitive', production still, 1953

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005)
Under the Boardwalk, Coney Island [Production still from Little Fugitive]
1953
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Orkin/Engel Film and Photo Archive, New York

 

 

Raymond Abrashkin (as “Ray Ashley”), Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin (directors)
Little Fugitive
1953

 

Joey, a young boy, runs away to Coney Island after he is tricked into believing he has killed his older brother. Joey collects glass bottles and turns them into money, which he uses to ride the rides.

Little Fugitive (1953), one of the most beautiful films featured in the exhibition, conveys the feeling of moving through the enormous crowds in Weegee’s photographThe creation of two master still photographers, Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin, and writer Ray Ashley, the film tells the story of Joey, a seven-year-old boy who runs away to Coney Island. But if Joey initially exalts in the freedom of being lost in the crowd, he feels abandoned when the amusement park closes down. Robert Frank’s photograph from the same year of a man asleep on a deserted beach with the Parachute Tower at his back [see below] echoes the film’s invocation of the resort’s fleeting joys. When Coney Island empties out it reveals the superficiality and pathos of the fantasies it evokes. In 1894, even before the big amusement parks were built, Stephen Crane mused about how in winter the “mammoth” hotels became “gaunt and hollow, impassively and stolidly suffering from an enormous hunger for the public.” (Stephen Crane, “Coney Island’s Failing Days,” in A Coney Island Reader, p. 69).”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

 

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

 

Installation of views of the exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 at the Brooklyn Museum, New York

 

Cyclops Head from Spook-A-Rama
c. 1955
Mixed media
60 x 47 x 42 inches
The Vourderis Family. Deno’s Wonder Wheel

 

Garry Winogrand. 'Coney Island, New York City, N.Y.,' 1952

 

Garry Winogrand
Coney Island, New York City, N.Y.,
1952
Silver bromide
8 1/2 x 13 inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn. Gift of Barbara and James L. Melcher

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Two Youths, Coney Island'From the series 'Brooklyn Gang, 1958' print c. 1965

 

Bruce Davidson
Untitled (Cathy and Cigarette Machine), from the series Brooklyn Gang 1959, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/8 x 12 5/8; sheet: 11 x 14 inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn. The Heinz Family Fund

 

Diane Arbus. ‘The House of Horrors’ 1961

 

Diane Arbus
The House of Horrors
1961
Gelatin silver print
14 1/2 x 14 inches
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

“As its carnival rides and sideshows became increasingly dated in the 1960s, Coney Island was unable to maintain even the phony thrills that Miller derided in the 1930s. In Diane Arbus’s The House of Horrors (1961)the fake skeleton and the cartoon ape mask aren’t as scary as the ride’s sorry state and the impression that something terrible has driven all the people away. (The 1970 low-budget slasher film Carnival of Blood, not included in the exhibition, brilliantly uses this seediness to create a sense of uncanny doom.) In Arnold Mesches’s painting Anomie 1991: Winged Victory (1991), the creaky rides mingle with images of war, turning dreamland into an apocalyptic nightmare.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Diane Arbus. 'Couple Arguing, Coney Island, N.Y.,' 1960

 

Diane Arbus
Couple Arguing, Coney Island, N.Y.,
1960
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 1/2 x 6 5/8 inches [image]; 14 x 11 inches [sheet]
Collection Thomas H. Lee and Ann Tenenbaum

 

Robert Frank. ‘Coney Island' 4th of July, 1958

 

Robert Frank
Coney Island
July 4, 1958
15 5/8 x 11 9/16 inches
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Robert Frank Collection. Gift of the Richard Florsheim Art Fund and an Anonymous Donor

 

Frank Stella (American, born 1936). 'Coney Island' 1958

 

Frank Stella (American, born 1936)
Coney Island
1958
Oil on canvas
85 1/4 x 78 3/4 inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn. Gift of Larom B. Munson, B.A. 1951

 

Harry Lapow (American, 1909–1982). 'Untitled (Buried Alive)' c. 1960s or 1970s

 

Harry Lapow (American, 1909-1982)
Untitled (Buried Alive)
c. 1960s or 1970s
Gelatin silver photograph
12 1/8 x 9 1/16 in. (30.8 x 23 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the artist
© Estate of Harry Lapow
Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum

 

 

Harry Lapow began frequenting Coney Island to capture quirks of the beach and boardwalk after receiving a Ciroflex camera on his forty-third birthday. He was intrigued by the camera’s ability to isolate details and fleeting moments of everyday life. Here, a toddler’s crossed legs appear above the head of a buried woman whose eyes are covered by a floral towel. In cropping this beach sighting, Lapow crafts a surprising juxtaposition, forming an unlikely dynamic between the lively child and the masked adult.

 

Bruce Davidson. 'Untitled' July 4, 1962

 

Bruce Davidson
Untitled
July 4, 1962
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches
Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Stephen Salmieri (American, born 1945). 'Coney Island' 1971

 

Stephen Salmieri (American, born 1945)
Coney Island
1971
Gelatin silver photograph
8 x 10 1/8 in. (20.3 x 25.7 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Edward Klein
© Stephen Salmieri
Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum

 

Harvey Stein (American, born 1941). 'The Hug: Closed Eyes and Smile' 1982

 

Harvey Stein (American, born 1941)
The Hug: Closed Eyes and Smile
1982
Digital, inkjet archival print
13 x 19 in. (33 x 48.3 cm)
Collection of the artist
© Harvey Stein, 2011

 

Red Grooms (American, born 1937). 'Weegee 1940' 1998-99

 

Red Grooms (American, born 1937)
Weegee 1940
1998-99
Acrylic on paper
56 1/8 x 62 in. (142.6 x 157.5 cm)
Private Collection
Photo: Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York
© 2013 Red Grooms/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Arnold Mesches (American, born 1923). 'Anomie 1991: Winged Victory' 1991

 

Arnold Mesches (American, born 1923)
Anomie 1991: Winged Victory
1991
Acrylic on canvas
92 x 135 in. (233.7 x 342.9 cm)
The San Diego Museum of Art; Museum purchase with partial funding from the Richard Florsheim Art Fund
© 2013 Arnold Mesches

 

Daze (American, born 1962). 'Coney Island Pier' 1995

 

Daze (American, born 1962)
Coney Island Pier
1995
Oil on canvas
60 x 80 in. (152.4 x 203.2 cm)
Collection of the artist

 

Daze (American, born 1962). 'Kiddlyand Spirits' 1995

 

Daze (American, born 1962)
Kiddyland Spirits
1995
Oil on canvas
42 x 71 inches
Collection of the artist

 

'Requiem for a Dream', production still, directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2000

 

Requiem for a Dream, production still, directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2000

 

Marie Roberts (American, born 1954). 'A Congress of Curious Peoples' 2005

 

Marie Roberts (American, born 1954)
A Congress of Curious Peoples
2005
Acrylic on unstretched canvas
84 x 120 in. (213.4 x 304.8 cm)
Collection of Liz and Marc Hartzman

 

Swoon. 'Coney, Early Evening' 2005

 

Swoon
Coney, Early Evening
2005
Linoleum print on Mylar
Variable; overall: 213 x 39 x 113 inches
Brooklyn Museum. Healy Purchase Fund B, Emily Winthrop Miles Fund, and Designated Purchase Fund

 

Swoon’s “Coney, Early Evening” suspends youthful figures intertwined throughout the iconic tracks of a Coney Island roller coaster.

 

Frederick Brosen (American, born 1954). 'Fortune Teller, Jones Walk, Coney Island' 2008

 

Frederick Brosen (American, born 1954)
Fortune Teller, Jones Walk, Coney Island
2008
Watercolor over graphite on paper
17 7/8 x 11 ¼ in. (45.4 x 28.6 cm)
Courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York
© 2013 Frederick Brosen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: Joshua Nefsky, courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York

 

 

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26
Jun
14

Photographs and text: George Platt Lynes and the male nude

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

 

Man Ray. 'George Platt Lynes' 1927

 

Man Ray
George Platt Lynes
1927

 

 

The greatest photographer of the male nude the world has ever seen – George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955).

Lynes worked as a fashion photographer in his own studio in New York (which he opened in 1932) before moving to Hollywood in 1946 where he took the post of Chief Photographer for the Vogue studios. Although an artistic success the sojourn was a financial failure and he returned to New York in 1948. Although continuing his commercial work he became disinterested in it, concentrating his energies on photographing the male nude. He began a friendship with Dr Alfred Kinsey of the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana and helped with his sex research. Between 1949 and 1955, Lynes sold and donated much of his erotic nudes to Kinsey.1 By May 1955 he had been diagnosed terminally ill with lung cancer. He closed his studio. He destroyed much of his print and negative archives particularly his male nudes. However, it is now known that he had transferred many of these works to the Kinsey Institute. After a final trip to Europe, Lynes returned to New York City where he died.2

Since the early 1930s Lynes had photographed male nudes and distributed the images privately to his circle of friends. He was reluctant to show them in public for fear of the harm that they could do to his reputation and business with the fashion magazines, for he was a gay man “passing” in a homophobic society. Generally his earlier male nude photographs concentrate on the idealised youthful body or ephebe. As Lynes became more despondent with his career as a fashion photographer his private photographs of male nudes tend to take on a darker and sharper edge. After a period of residence in Hollywood he returned to New York nearly penniless. His style of photographing the male nude underwent a revision. While the photographs of his European colleagues still relied on the sun drenched bodies of young adolescent males evoking memories of classical beauty and the mythology of Ancient Greece the later nudes of Platt Lynes feature a mixture of youthful ephebes and heavier set bodies which appear to be more sexually knowing. The compositional style of dramatically lit photographs of muscular torsos of older, rougher men shot in close up were possibly influenced by a number of things – his time in Hollywood with its images of handsome, swash-buckling movie stars with broad chests and magnificent physiques; the images of bodybuilders by physique photographers that George Platt Lynes visited; the fact that his lover George Tichenor had been killed during WWII; and the knowledge that he was penniless and had cancer. There is, I believe, a certain sadness but much inner strength in his later photographs of the male nude that harnesses the inherent sexual power embedded within their subject matter.

This monumentality of body and form was matched by a new openness in the representation of sexuality. There are intimate photographs of men in what seem to be post-coital revere, in unmade beds, genitalia showing or face down showing their butts off (see Untitled [Charles ‘Tex’ Smutney, Charles ‘Buddy’ Stanley, and Bradbury Ball] c. 1942, below). Some of the faces in these later photographs remain hidden, as though disclosure of identity would be detrimental for fear of persecution or prosecution. However, this photograph is quite restrained compared to the most striking series of GPL’s photographs which involves an exploration the male anal area (a photograph from the 1951 series can be found in the book titled George Platt Lynes: Photographs from The Kinsey Institute). This explicit series features other photographs of the same model – in particular one that depicts the male with his buttocks in the air pulling his arse cheeks apart. After Lynes found out he had cancer he started to send his photographs to the German homoerotic magazine Der Kries under the pseudonym Roberto Rolf, and in the last years of his life he experimented with paper negatives, which made his images of the male body even more grainy and mysterious.

Further, when undertaking research into GPL’s photographs at The Kinsey Institute as part of my PhD I noted that most of the photographs had annotations in code on the back of them giving details of age, sexual proclivities of models and what they are prepared to do and where they were found. This information gives a vital social context to GPL’s nude photographs of men and positions them within the moral and ethical framework of the era in which they were made. Most of the photographs list the names of the models used but we are unable to print them due to an agreement between GPL and Dr. Kinsey as to their secrecy.

I believe that Lynes understood, intimately, the different physical body types that gay men find desirable and used them in his photographs. He visited Lon of New York (a photographer of beefcake men) in his studio and purchased photographs of bodybuilders for himself, as did the German photographer George Hoyningen-Huene. It is likely that these images of bodybuilders influenced his later compositional style of images of men; it is also possible that he detected the emergence of this iconic male body type as a potent sexual symbol, one that that was becoming more visible and sexually available to gay men.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

1. Brown, Elspeth. “Queer Desire and Cold War Homophobia,” on the In The Darkroom blog May 2013 [Online] Cited 24/06/2014.
2. “He clearly was concerned that this work, which he considered his greatest achievement as a photographer, should not be dispersed or destroyed…We have to remember the time period we’re talking about – America during the post-war Red Scare…”

Quotation from George Platt Lynes, The Male Nudes. Rizzoli International Pub, 2011 cited on “George Platt Lynes” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 24/06/2014.

 

Many thankx to Associate Professor Elspeth H. Brown for allowing me to publish her text “Queer Desire and Cold War Homophobia”. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The depth and commitment he had in photographing the male nude, from the start of his career to the end, was astonishing. There was absolutely no commercial impulse involved – he couldn’t exhibit it, he couldn’t publish it.”

.
Allen Ellenzweig

 

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled (male nude with tattoo)' 1950-1955

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled (male nude with tattoo)
1950-1955
Silver gelatin photograph
24.5 x 19.5 cm

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' Nd [c. 1951]

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
Nd [c. 1951]
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Jack Fontan' c. 1950

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Jack Fontan
c. 1950
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Samuel M. Steward,. "George Platt Lynes," in 'The Advocate', No. 332, December 10, 1981, p.22

Samuel M. Steward,. "George Platt Lynes," in 'The Advocate', No. 332, December 10, 1981, p.23

Samuel M. Steward,. "George Platt Lynes," in 'The Advocate', No. 332, December 10, 1981, p.24

 

Samuel M. Steward. “George Platt Lynes,” in The Advocate, No. 332, December 10, 1981, pp. 22-24

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled [Charles 'Tex' Smutney, Charles 'Buddy' Stanley, and Bradbury Ball]' c. 1942

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled [Charles ‘Tex’ Smutney, Charles ‘Buddy’ Stanley, and Bradbury Ball]
c. 1942
Silver gelatin photograph

.
According to David Leddick the models are Charles ‘Tex’ Smutney, Charles ‘Buddy’ Stanley, and Bradbury Ball. The image comes from a series of 30 photographs of these three boys undressing and lying on a bed together. Leddick, David. Naked Men: Pioneering Male Nudes 1935-1955. New York: Universe Publishing, 1997, p. 21.

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Ted Starkowski (standing, arms folded)' c. 1950

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Ted Starkowski (standing, arms folded)
c. 1950
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Ted Starkowski (standing, arms behind back)' c. 1950

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Ted Starkowski (standing, arms behind back)
c. 1950
Silver gelatin photograph
22.9 x 19.1 cm

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1952

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
1952
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled (male nude study)' Nd

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled (male nude study)
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

Queer Desire and Cold War Homophobia

Associate Professor Elspeth H. Brown

This photograph [above] archives queer, illicit desire in Cold War America. It was made by George Platt Lynes, and is part of a set of male nudes that the photographer made in the decades leading to his death, from lung cancer, in 1955. Because exhibiting these photographs was a impossibility during Lynes’s lifetime due to Cold War homophobia, he circulated them privately among his queer kinship networks.

Lynes was part of a closely connected circle of elite gay men who dominated American arts and letters in the interwar and early post-war years. For 16 years, Lynes lived with the writer Glenway Wescott and museum curator Monroe Wheeler, who were a couple for over fifty years; they had a variety of other sexual partners throughout, including Lynes, who shared a bedroom with Wheeler during their years together. All three of them, as well as friends and colleagues Lincoln Kirstein, Paul Cadmus, and other leading figures, participated in sex parties in the 1940s and 1950s, as documented in their personal papers. However, in the context of 1950s-era red scares, which particularly focused on homosexuals, the more open sexual subcultures of the 1930s and 1940s were driven even further underground.

In April of 1950, Glenway Wescott wrote George Platt Lynes that while the erotic explicitness of George’s nudes didn’t personally concern him, he was worried for Monroe Wheeler, since Wheeler held a public position as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art. “I really don’t mind scabrousness, etc., on my account, as you must know,” he wrote. “Only that our poor M [Monroe] must conclude his career with good effect and honor, I am anxious not to involve him in what is now called (in the nation’s capital) ‘guilty by association’ (have you been reading the columns and columns in the newspapers upon this and correlative points?).”

Although McCarthyism is often understood as the effort to purge suspected communists from the State Department and other branches of the federal government, the Red Scare equally targeted homosexuals, who were forced out of public service and into the closet. Wescott may well have been referring to the front page of the New York Times on March 1, 1950, where Secretary of State Dean Acheson testified about the Alger Hiss trial and the loyalty program at the State Department. Although the article purportedly concerned communism, it shows that the red scare mainly affected homosexuals, as Wescott clearly understood. Senator Bridges asked John E. Peurifoy, Deputy Under-Secretary of State in charge of the security program, how many members of the State Department had resigned since the investigations began in 1947. “Ninety-one persons in the shady category,” Mr. Peurifoy replied, “most of these were homosexuals.” This was not necessarily newsworthy in and of itself, so far as the New York Times was concerned in 1950, and the remainder of the article detailed the testimony relating to other aspects of the hearings.

Lynes continued to make and circulate his portraits, despite this climate of homophobia. He was very concerned that the work find an audience, and published it in several issues of the German homosexual journal Der Kreis in the 1950s. He also became an important informant for Alfred Kinsey’s research, as did Glenway Wescott and other members of their circle. Between 1949 and 1955, Lynes sold and donated much of his erotic nudes to Kinsey, where they are now part of the Kinsey Institute collections in Bloomington, Indiana.

© Elspeth H. Brown 2013
Associate Professor of History
University of Toronto

Reproduced with permission of the author.

Elspeth H. Brown website

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1951

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
1951
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled (Charles Romans in the artist's apartment)' 1953

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled (Charles Romans in the artist’s apartment)
1953
Silver gelatin photograph
19.5 x 24.5 cm

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Don Cerulli' 1952

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Don Cerulli
1952
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Male nude study' 1951

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Male nude study
1951
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1951

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
1951
Silver gelatin photograph
22.9 x 19.1 cm

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1936

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
1936
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'George Tooker' 1945

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
George Tooker
1945
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Tex Smutney' 1943

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Tex Smutney
1943
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

Chronology by Jack Woody

1907-1924 Born April 15, 1907, East Orange, New Jersey. Raised in comfortable circumstances and privately educated. Schoolmate Lincoln Kirstein described the young Lynes as “precocious,” crediting him with a subsequent introduction to George Balanchine.

1925 Makes first trip to Europe. Meets lifetime companions Glenway Wescott and Monroe Wheeler. Befriends Gertrude Stein, Pavel Tchelitchew and Jean Cocteau during his stay. Returns to New York City, works at Brentano’s Bookstore for a short time.

1926 Publishes the ‘As Stable Pamphlets’ in his parents’ house, Englewood, New Jersey. Includes Gertrude Stein’s DESCRIPTIONS OF LITERATURE and Ernest Hemingway’s first published play TODAY IS FRIDAY with cover designs by Pavel Tchelitchew and Jean Codeau. Enters Yale University in Autumn, leaves in December.

1927 Opens Park Place Book Shop in Englewood. The gift of a view camera encourages Lynes to make a career of photography.

1928-1930 During 1928 Lynes exhibits his celebrity portraits at Park Place Book Shop to launch a portrait business in the shop. Continues traveling to Europe, teaching himself by trial-and-error a technical understanding of the medium.

1931 Introduced to Julien Levy. Together they experiment with photographing surrealistic still-lifes. Levy arranges to include Lynes in Surrealism exhibition at Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut. Visits and photographs Gertrude Stein at Bilignin.

1932 First important exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in tandem with Walker Evans. The death of his father forces Lynes to take up photography as a means of economic support.

1933 Opens first New York City studio on East 50th Street. Continued public showings of his work and interest in his celebrity portraits attracts a large clientele of New York socialites and their families.

1934 Begins publishing his fashion and portrait work in such magazines as Town and Country, Harpers’ Bazaar and Vogue magazines.

1935 Invited by Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine to document the repertoire and principal dancers in their fledgling American Ballet (now New York City Ballet), a collaboration that will continue until Lynes’ death in 1955.

1936 Surrealistic composition ‘The Sleepwalker’ included in New York Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition, ‘Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism.’ Lynes undertakes an extensive project to photographically interpret mythological situations.

1937-1940 Continues involvement with mythology series. Successful commercial career now headquartered in a large studio at 604 Madison Avenue. Commercial fashion accounts include Hattie Carnegie, Henri Bendel, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.

1941-1945 Photographs airfield activities for First Air Force’s publicity and documentation. Begins to lose interest in commercial work, a process accelerated by the death of George Tichenor in 1942. Disillusioned with New York and his private life Lynes closes his studio and leaves for Los Angeles to head Vogue Magazine’s Hollywood studio.

1946-1947 Lynes begins to photograph in his rented Hollywood Hills home, experimenting with effects achieved with minimal amounts of available light. Photographs Christopher Isherwood, Igor Stravinsky, Thomas Mann and Aldous Huxley.

1948-1950 Friends sponsor the financially troubled Lynes’ return to New York where he is uninterested in and unable to repeat his earlier commercial successes. Economics force Lynes to experiment with cheaper photographic tools. He is particularly interested in the paper negative. Meets sex researcher Alfred Kinsey; impressed with Lynes’ work, Kinsey arranges to purchase hundreds of photographs for his Bloomington, Indiana institute.

1951-1954 Publishes his male nudes in homoerotic magazine ‘Der Kries’ using the pseudonyms Roberto Rolf and Robert Orville. Declares bankruptcy. Lives in a succession of apartments and studios as illness becomes apparent.

1955 In May diagnosed terminally ill with cancer. Last portrait sitting is June 16 with Monroe Wheeler. Closes studio and undergoes radium and drug therapy. Lynes begins to destroy large portions of his negative and print archives. In the Autumn he leaves for Europe, returning to New York in November to be hospitalized. At night Lynes leaves the hospital to attend the theatre and ballet. He dies on December sixth, forty-eight years old.

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Mel Fillini' 1950

 

George Platt Lynes
Mel Fillini
1950
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Robert McVoy' c. 1941

 

George Platt Lynes
Robert McVoy
c. 1941
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

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14
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘Masculine / Masculine: The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the present day’ at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Exhibition dates: 24th September 2013 – 2nd January 2014

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The von Gloeden is stunning and some of the paintings are glorious: the muscularity / blood red colour in Falguière by Lutteurs d’Alexandre (1875, below); the beauty of Ángel Zárraga’s Votive Offering (Saint Sebastian) (1912, below); the sheer nakedness and earthiness of the Freud; and the colour, form and (homo)eroticism of The Bath by Paul Cadmus (1951, below), with their pert buttocks and hands washing suggestively.

But there is nothing too outrageous here. Heaven forbid!

After all, this is the male nude as curatorial commodity.

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Many thankx to the Musée d’Orsay for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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“The high brow peep show is divided thematically into depictions of religion, mythology, athleticism, homosexuality, and shifting notions of manliness. Wandering the Musee’s grand halls you will see rippling Greco-Roman Apollonian gods, Egon Schiele’s finely rendered, debauched self portraits and David LaChapelle’s 90s macho-kitsch celebs. Edward Munch’s hazy, pastel bathers mingle with Lucian Freud’s grossly erotic fleshy animals and reverent depictions of Christ and Saint Sebastian, showing the many ways to interpret a body sans outerwear.”

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Priscilla Frank. “‘Masculine/Masculine’ Explores Male Nude Throughout Art History And We Couldn’t Be Happier (NSFW),” on the Huffpost Arts and Culture website, 26/09/2013

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Jean Delville (1867-1953) 'École de Platon' (School of Plato) 1898

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Jean Delville (1867-1953)
École de Platon (School of Plato)
1898
Oil on canvas
H. 260; W. 605 cm
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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In the late 19th century, Belgium was one of the great centres of European symbolism. Jean Delville’s paintings and writings expressed the most esoteric side of the movement. In the mid-1880s, Delville’s discovery of the symbolist milieu in Paris and the friendships he made there led him to break with the naturalism inherited from his academic training. Thus his friendship with the Sâr Péladan and his regular attendance at the Salon of the Rose+Croix, testified to his belief in an intellectual art which focused on evocation more than description.

School of Plato, a decoration intended for the Sorbonne but never installed there, is a striking work in many respects. Its monumental size and its ambitious message – an interpretation of classical philosophy seen through the prism of the symbolist ideal – set it apart. The manifesto makes no secret of its references, from Raphael to Puvis de Chavannes, but envelops them in the strange charm of a deliberately unreal colour range. The ambiguity emanating from this fin de siècle Mannerism knowingly blurs the borderline between purity and sensuality.

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Jules Elie Delaunay. 'Ixion Thrown Into the Flames' 1876

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Jules Elie Delaunay
Ixion Thrown Into the Flames
1876
© RMN-Grand Palais / Gérard Blot

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Camille Félix Bellanger. 'Abel' 1874-75

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Camille Félix Bellanger
Abel
1874-75
© Musée d’Orsay

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Eadweard Muybridge. 'Animal Locomotion' 1887

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Eadweard Muybridge
Animal Locomotion
1887
© Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN / Alexis Brandt

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Kehinde Wiley. 'Death of Abel Study' 2008

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Kehinde Wiley
Death of Abel Study
2008
© Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA & Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris

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Paul Cézanne. 'Baigneurs' (Bathers) 1890

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Paul Cézanne
Baigneurs (Bathers)
1890
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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“While it has been quite natural for the female nude to be regularly exhibited, the male nude has not been accorded the same treatment. It is highly significant that until the show at the Leopold Museum in Vienna in the autumn of 2012, no exhibition had opted to take a fresh approach, over a long historical perspective, to the representation of the male nude. However, male nudity was for a long time, from the 17th to 19th centuries, the basis of traditional Academic art training and a key element in Western creative art. Therefore when presenting the exhibition Masculine / Masculine, the Musée d’Orsay, drawing on the wealth of its own collections (with several hitherto unknown sculptures) and on other French public collections, aims to take an interpretive, playful, sociological and philosophical approach to exploring all aspects and meanings of the male nude in art. Given that the 19th century took its inspiration from 18th century classical art, and that this influence still resonates today, the Musée d’Orsay is extending its traditional historical range in order to draw a continuous arc of creation through two centuries down to the present day. The exhibition will include the whole range of techniques: painting, sculpture, graphic arts and, of course, photography, which will have an equal place in the exhibition.

To convey the specifically masculine nature of the body, the exhibition, in preference to a dull chronological presentation, takes the visitor on a journey through a succession of thematic focuses, including the aesthetic canons inherited from Antiquity, their reinterpretation in the Neo-Classical, Symbolist and contemporary eras where the hero is increasingly glorified, the Realist fascination for truthful representation of the body, nudity as the body’s natural state, the suffering of the body and the expression of pain, and finally its eroticisation. The aim is to establish a genuine dialogue between different eras in order to reveal how certain artists have been prompted to reinterpret earlier works. In the mid 18th century, Winckelmann examined the legacy of the divine proporzioni of the body inherited from Antiquity, which, in spite of radical challenges, still apply today having mysteriously come down through the history of art as the accepted definition of beauty. From Jacques-Louis David to George Platt-Lynes, LaChapelle and Pierre et Gilles, and including Gustave Moreau, a whole series of connections is revealed, based around issues of power, censorship, modesty, the boundaries of public expectation and changes in social mores.

Winckelmann’s glorification of Greek beauty reveals an implicit carnal desire, relating to men as well as women, which certainly comes down through two centuries from the “Barbus” group and from David’s studio, to David Hockney and the film director James Bidgood. This sensibility also permeates the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries as it questions its own identity, as we see in the extraordinary painting École de Platon [School of Plato], inexplicably purchased by the French state in 1912 from the Belgian artist Delville. Similarly, the exhibition will reveal other visual and intellectual relationships through the works of artists as renowned as Georges de La Tour, Pierre Puget, Abilgaard, Paul Flandrin, Bouguereau, Hodler, Schiele, Munch, Picasso, Bacon, Mapplethorpe, Freud and Mueck, while lining up some surprises like the Mexican Angel Zarraga’s Saint Sébastien (Saint Sebastian), De Chirico’s Les Bains mystérieux (Mysterious Baths) and the erotica of Americans Charles Demuth and Paul Cadmus.

This autumn therefore, the Musée d’Orsay will invite the visitor to an exhibition that challenges the continuity of a theme that has always interested artists, through unexpected yet productive confrontations between the various revivals of the nude man in art.”

Press release from the Musée d’Orsay website

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Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) 'Academy Drawing of a Man, said to be Patroclu' 1778

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Jacques Louis David (1748-1825)
Academy Drawing of a Man, said to be Patroclu
1778
Oil on canvas
H. 122; W. 170 cm
Cherbourg, musée Thomas-Henry
© Cherbourg, musée Thomas-Henry

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Masculine / Masculine

Why had there never been an exhibition dedicated to the male nude until Nackte Männer at the Leopold Museum in Vienna last year? In order to answer this question, the exhibition sets out to compare works of different eras and techniques, around great themes that have shaped the image of the male body for over two centuries.

We must distinguish above all between nudity and the nude: a body simply without clothes, that causes embarrassment with its lack of modesty, is different from the radiant vision of a body restructured and idealised by the artist. Although this distinction can be qualified, it highlights the positive, uninhibited approach to the nude in western art since the Classical Period.

Today, the nude essentially brings to mind a female body, the legacy of a 19th century that established it as an absolute and as the accepted object of male desire. Prior to this, however, the female body was regarded less favourably than its more structured, more muscular male counterpart. Since the Renaissance, the male nude had been accorded more importance: the man as a universal being became a synonym for Mankind, and his body was established as the ideal human form, as was already the case in Greco-Roman art. Examples of this interpretation abound in the Judeo-Christian cultural heritage: Adam existed before Eve, who was no more than his copy and the origin of sin. Most artists being male, they found an “ideal me” in the male nude, a magnified, narcissistic reflection of themselves. And yet, until the middle of the 20th century, the sexual organ was the source of a certain embarrassment, whether shrunken or well hidden beneath strategically placed drapery, thong or scabbard.

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Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Desmarais (1756-1813) 'Le Berger Pâris' (The Shepherd, Paris) 1787

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Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Desmarais (1756-1813)
Le Berger Pâris (The Shepherd, Paris)
1787
Oil on canvas
H. 177 ; L. 118 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa
© Photo: MBAC

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The Classic Ideal

From the 17th century, training of the highest standard was organised for the most privileged artists. In sculpture and in history painting, the ultimate aim of this teaching was to master the representation of the male nude: this was central to the creative process, as the preparatory studies had to capture the articulation of the body as closely as possible, whether clothed or not, in the finished composition.

In France, pupils studied at the Académie Royale then at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, working from drawings, engravings, sculptures “in the round” and life models. Right up until the late 20th century, these models were exclusively male, for reasons of social morality, but also because the man was considered to have the archetypal human form. In order to be noble and worthy of artistic representation, and to appeal to all, this could not be the body of an ordinary man: the distinctive features of the model had to be tempered in order to elevate the subject.

Above all, the artists of Antiquity and of the Renaissance were considered to have established an ideal synthesis of the human body without being distracted by individual characteristics. For Winckelmann, the German 18th century aesthete, the ideal beauty of Greek statues could only be embodied by the male nude. But although it inspired numerous artists, the “noble simplicity and quiet grandeur” of Winckelmann’s gods was undermined by other interpretations of Classical art: the torment of Laocoon, a work from late Antiquity, can be seen in the work of the Danish painter Abildgaard, while David advocated a much more Roman masculinity. Even when challenged, reinterpreted and renewed by the 20th century avant-garde, the Classical male nude and its rich legacy remains an object of fascination right up to the inter-war years and up to the present day.

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George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968) 'Horst P. Horst, Photographie' 1932

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George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968)
Horst P. Horst, Photographie
1932
Tirage argentique
H. 19 ; L. 22,7 cm
Hambourg, FC Gundlach
© Droits réservés

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The Heroic Nude

The concept and the word “hero” itself come from ancient Greece: whether a demigod or simply a mortal transcending his human condition to become an exemplum virtutis, he embodies an ideal. The admiration for Classical art and culture explains the ubiquity of the hero in Academic painting, particularly in subjects given to candidates of the Prix de Rome: great history painting thrived on the exploits of supermen in the most perfect bodies.

This connection between anatomy and heroic virtue, conveying noble and universal values, goes back to the Neo-Platonic concept linking beauty and goodness. The hero’s nudity has been so self-evident that the “heroic nude” has become the subject of a recurrent debate about the representation of great men, past or present, no matter how incongruous the result may appear.

Heroism is not a state, rather a means by which the strength of character of an exceptional being man is revealed: although Hercules’ strength is inseparable from his exploits, it was David’s cunning that overcame the powerful Goliath. In both cases they are endowed with a warrior’s strength, which was particularly valued by a 19th century thirsting for virility and patriotic assertion: more than ever, this was the ideal to be attained. We had to wait for the 20th century crisis of masculinity before we could see the renewal of the status of the increasingly contemporary hero, and the diversification of his physical characteristics. However, whether a star or a designer like Yves Saint-Laurent, or even the young men on the streets of Harlem painted by the American Kehinde Wiley, the evocative power of nudity remains.

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953) 'Vive la France' 2006

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953)
Vive la France
2006
(models: Serge, Moussa and Robert)
Painted photograph, unique piece
H. 125; W. 101 cm
© Pierre et Gilles

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The Gods of the Stadium

The 20th century witnessed the start of a new way of looking at the human body where the focus was on medical aspects and hygiene, and this had a considerable impact on the concept of the artistic nude. Numerous physical education movements and gymnasia appeared. People were captivated by the figure of the “sportsman” and, as in the work of the painter Eugene Jansson, came to admire and covet the virile power of his body in action. This concept is realised in culturalism, the narcissistic admiration of a body that has become an object to be fashioned like an artwork in its own right. Modern man with his athletic morphology has become a new potential ideal: he embodies a beauty that invites comparison with Greco-Roman art.

Linked with the affirmation of national identity, the athlete has come to personify the brute force of the nation and an ability to defend the country in times of war. During the 1930s in the United States, the image of the athlete evolved in a distinctive way, highlighting the ordinary man as a mixture of physical strength and bravery. Totalitarian regimes, however, perverted the cult of the athlete in order to promote their own ideology: Germany linked it in a demiurgic way with the made-up concept of the “Aryan” race, while Mussolini’s government erected marble idols on the Stadio dei Marmi.

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Jean-Bernard Duseigneur (1808-1866) 'Orlando Furioso' 1867

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Jean-Bernard Duseigneur (1808-1866)
Orlando Furioso
1867
Cast in bronze
H. 130; W. 146; D. 90 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
© Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Thierry Ollivier

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It’s tough being a Hero

As he moves outside the established order, the mythological hero risks the anger of the gods and the jealousy of men. Although his passions, his moral shortcomings and occasionally his frailties stem from his human condition, he is happy to possess the perfect form of the gods: thus the artist and the spectator find expression of a perfect self. The great dramatic destinies thus give character to the compositions, and enable them to interpret a whole range of emotions from determination to despair, from hostility to eternal rest.

Although it is a platitude to say that feelings are expressed most accurately in the face – from the theorised and institutional drawings of Charles Le Brun to the “tête d’expression” competition at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts – one must not underestimate the key role of the body and the anatomy as vehicles for expressing emotion: certain formal choices even led to generally accepted conventions.

Mythology and the Homeric epic abound with stories of the ill-fated destinies and destructive passions of heroes, whose nudity is justified by its origins in ancient Greece: Joseph-Désiré Court displays the broken body of the ill-fated Hippolytus, a premonition of the transposition in the ancient world of Mort pour la patrie [Dying for The Fatherland] of Lecomte du Nouÿ.

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Nude Veritas

The Realist aesthetic, which came to the fore in western art during the 19th century, had a dramatic effect on the representation of male nudity. The human body, represented as nature intended, was no longer seen from the decorous distance that characterised the idealised image of the nude, a goal to be achieved through Academic drawing exercises. In this context, where revealing the body was an affront to modesty – in the male-dominated society of the 19th century, the unclothed male appeared even more obscene and shocking than the unclothed female – the male nude gradually became less common as female figures proliferated.

This reversal did not mean, however, that naked men disappeared altogether: scientific study of the male nude, aided by new techniques such as the decomposition of movement through a series of photographs taken in rapid succession – chronophotography – brought advances in the study of anatomy and transformed the teaching of art students. From then on, it was less a case, for the most avant-garde artists, of striving to reproduce a canon of beauty inherited from the past, than of representing a body that retained the harmony of the model’s true characteristics.

The evocative power of the nude inspired artists like the Austrian Schiele to produce nude self portraits that revealed the existential torments of the artist. Invested at times with a Christ-like dimension, these depictions, moving beyond realism into introspection, continued to be produced right up to the 21st century, especially in photography.

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William Bouguereau (1825-1905) 'Equality before Death' 1848

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William Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Equality before Death
1848
Oil on Canvas
H. 141; W. 269 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

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Without compromise

The fascination for reality established in artistic circles in the mid 19th century prompted a thorough renewal of religious painting. Although resorting to the classical idealisation of the body seemed to be consistent with religious dogma, artists like Bonnat breathed fresh life into the genre by depicting the harsh truth of the physical condition of biblical figures.

This principle was already at work in Egalité devant la mort [Equality before Death], by Bouguereau, who, in his early work, in the final days of Romanticism, exploited the power of the image of an ordinary corpse. Rodin, far from enhancing the appearance of the novelist that he was invited to celebrate, sought to render Balzac’s corpulent physique with implacable accuracy, without diminishing his grandeur in any way.

The question is thus raised of art’s relationship to reality, a question Ron Mueck tackles in his work. And the strange effect brought about by a change of scale gives an intensity to the dead body of his father that echoes the dead figure in Bouguereau’s painting.

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Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870) 'Fisherman with a Net' 1868

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Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870)
Fisherman with a Net
1868
Oil on canvas
H. 134; W. 83 cm
Zurich, Rau Foundation for the Third World
© Lylho / Leemage

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Hippolyte Flandrin (1809-1864) 'Nude Youth Sitting by the Sea, Study' 1836

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Hippolyte Flandrin (1809-1864)
Nude Youth Sitting by the Sea, Study
1836
Oil on canvas
H. 98; W. 124 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
© Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Angèle Dequier

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Gloeden,_Wilhem_von_(1856-1931)-Cain-WEB

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Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931)
Cain, Taormine, Sicile
1911
© Westlicht, Musée de la Photographie, Vienna

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In Nature

Including the naked body in a landscape was not a new challenge for 19th century artists. In many aspects, this was recurrent in large-scale history painting, and a demanding artistic exercise by which a painter’s technical mastery was judged. It was about making the relationship between the naked body and its setting as accurate as possible in terms of proportion, depth and light. Although Bazille’s Pêcheur à l’épervier [Fisherman with a Net] is one of the most successful attempts – in a contemporary context – at depicting a naked man in an atmospheric light that the Impressionists later took for their own, he nevertheless observed the principles of academic construction.

Masculine nudity in nature took another meaning as society was transformed through technical advances and urbanisation. Man was now seeking a communion with nature, that could reconcile him with the excesses and the sense of dislocation created by the modern world, while still conforming to the theories of good health advocating physical exercise and fresh air.

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In pain

In allowing themselves to deviate from the classical norms, artists opened up new possibilities for a more expressive representation of a body in the throes of torment or pain. The decline of the Academic nude and of classical restraint explains this predilection for ordeals: Ixion’s for example, condemned by Zeus to be bound to an eternally spinning wheel of fire.

The writhing body can also express torment of a more psychological nature. The pain experienced by the male body naturally relates to the issues of power between men and women in contemporary society: the naked body can be demeaning and, in certain circumstances, likely to call into question virility and male domination. In this respect, Louise Bourgeois’ choice of a male figure for her Arch of Hysteria was not a random one.

The martyr can, nevertheless, inspire compositions other than the tortured body: the death of Abel, killed by his brother Cain in the Book of Genesis, seems, on the contrary, to have inspired the pose of a totally relaxed body at the point of death. This abandon, however, conveyed a certain ambivalence that artists were determined to exploit: the body, often magnified and in state of morbid ecstasy, was in fact there for the spectator to relish. In these cases, suffering was merely a device to justify fetishising the body once again. In contrast with this seductive treatment, photographers engaged in experiments to divide the body into individual parts, in an aesthetic or even playful approach.

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François-Xavier Fabre (1766-1837) 'The Dying Saint Sebastian' 1789

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François-Xavier Fabre (1766-1837)
The Dying Saint Sebastian
1789
Oil on canvas
H. 196; W. 147 cm
Montpellier, Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération – cliché Frédéric Jaulmes

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Ángel_Zárraga-Votive_Offering_(Saint_Sebastian)-1912-WEB

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Ángel Zárraga
Votive Offering (Saint Sebastian)
1912
Oil on canvas
© Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico

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The Glorious body

Judeo-Christian culture has undeniably influenced the representation of the naked man since the beginning of modern art. However, the Catholic concept of the body has been at variance with nudity since Paleochristian times: the body is merely the corporeal envelope from which the soul is freed on death. Influenced by theologians advocating the union of the sensory and the spiritual, nudity gradually became accepted for important figures such as Christ and Saint Sebastian. Their martyred bodies, transcended by suffering endured through faith, paradoxically allowed the human soul to come close to God.

For the Catholic church, the vulnerability of Christ’s body, subjected to suffering and bearing the stigmata, is evidence of his humanity, while his divinity is revealed in his inspired expression and his idealised body, a legacy of the underlying classical models. The figure of Saint Sebastian is especially complex: this popular saint, the epitome of the martyr who survives his first ordeal, embodies the victory of life over death. This life force is no doubt related to his youthful beauty and his naked body, both of which made their appearance in the 17th century. This being the case, his representation gradually moves away from Catholic dogma, and acquires an unprecedented freedom and life of its own: his sensuality is more and more obvious, whereas his suffering is at times impossible to detect. In this quest for sensual pleasure, and until the 20th century, the only taboo was to reveal the penis.

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Paul Cadmus (1904-1999) 'The Bath' 1951

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Paul Cadmus (1904-1999)
The Bath
1951
Tempera on card
H. 36.4; W. 41.4 cm
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art
Anonymous gift
© Whitney Museum of American Art, NY – Art
© Jon F. Anderson, Estate of Paul Cadmus / ADAGP, Paris 2013

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Alexendre Alexandrovitch Deineka (Russian, 1899-1969) 'La douche. Après la bataille' (Shower, After the Battle) 1937-42

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Alexendre Alexandrovitch Deineka (Russian, 1899-1969)
La douche. Après la bataille (Shower, After the Battle)
1937-42
Oil on canvas

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“This male homoeroticism maintains close ties with the revolutionary project to destroy the family and traditional marriage and the construction of new types of social relations based on collective values ​​above all, with the idea that the bonds of friendship and camaraderie between men (homosociality, “male bonding”) are equally or more important than heterosexual bonding. It is mainly in the period from the Revolution to the 1930s the values ​​of friendship and camaraderie seem particularly highlighted the detriment of the bonds of love, very devalued as “petty-bourgeois”, but even more later, with the Stalinist project of “restoration” of the family, it can be assumed that the emotional and romantic in the heterosexual couple have never been a pervasive and rewarding cultural representation of magnitude of that which may be known in the West. [11] The researcher Lilya Kaganovsky, analyzing the Soviet visual culture (especially cult films of the 1930s and 1940s), speaks of “heterosexual panic” in response to the concept of “homosexual panic” coined by Eve K. Segdwick: according Kaganovsky, Soviet cultural works largely reflects the idea that the relations of friendship, especially homosocial, particularly between men, is a moral value than heterosexual relationships. [12] In such a cosmology, heterosexual relationships could be perceived from within oneself and risk jeopardizing the homosocial relationships of camaraderie and friendship, and the same social and national cohesion, thought to be based on collective values that conflicts with the value of exclusivity in the couple, “cozy comforts of home” [13].”

Mona. “Représenter le corps socialiste : l’exemple du peintre A. Deïneka (1899-1969),” on the Genre, politique et sexualités website, 16th April 2012 (translation by Google translate)

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Douche.-1932.-(Boris-Ignatovitch)-WEB

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Boris Ignatovitch
Douche (Shower)
1932
Silver gelatin photograph

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The Temptation of the male

An acknowledged desire for the male body, and the liberalisation of social conventions gave rise to some daring works from the mid 20th century onwards. In the United States, in spite of its puritan outlook since the Second World War, Paul Cadmus did not balk at depicting a pick up scene between men in a most unlikely Finistère. While the physical attraction of the body remained confined for a long time to the secrecy of private interiors, it was increasingly evident in public, in exclusively masculine social situations like communal showers or in the guise of a reconstructed Platonic Antiquity.

Eroticism is even presented quite crudely by Cocteau, whose influence on the young Warhol is undeniable. Beauty and seduction part company when the ideal transmitted by references to the past takes root in idiosyncratic practices and contemporary culture, as Hockney has expressed so accurately in his painting.

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Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824) 'The Sleep of Endymion' 1791

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Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824)
The Sleep of Endymion
1791
Oil on canvas
H. 90; W. 117.5 cm
Montargis, Musée Girodet
© Cliché J. Faujour/musée Girodet, Montargis

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953) 'Mercury' 2001

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953)
Mercury
2001
© Pierre et Gilles

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The Object of desire

For many years, the male body in art had been the subject of “objectification”. The unrestrained admiration for the perfection of the Greco-Roman nudes, a purely intellectual reconstruction of a body that had become the canon of beauty, meant that no interpretation of the nude was considered improper, even Winckelmann’s, with its powerful erotic charge.

Although Academic circles naturally encouraged the nude in great history paintings, certain subjects retained elements of sensuality and ambiguity. At the turn of the 19th century, discussion of the characteristics of the two sexes and their respective boundaries aroused interest in the bisexual amours of Jupiter and Apollo, while the formula of the young hero dying in the arms of his male lover was met with particular interest.

Girodet’s Endymion is depicted as an ephebe, his body caressed sensuously by the rays of the moon goddess, inspiring numerous homoerotic interpretations. With the Symbolists, as with Gustave Moreau, the difference between the sexes results in the downfall of a vulnerable man overcome by an inexorable and destructive force that is seen as feminine. However, at the other extreme, and in a less dramatic way, Hodler depicts the awakening of adolescent love between a self-obsessed young man and a girl who is captivated by his charm.

The sensuality and acknowledged eroticisation considered to be appropriate to the female body during the 19th century struck a serious blow against the traditional virility of the male nude: this blow was not fatal however, as the male nude was still very visible in the 20th century. Sexual liberation expressed, loud and clear, a feeling of voluptuousness and, often with few reservations, endowed the male body with a sexual charge. The model was usually identified, an assertive sign as a statement of the individuality: with Pierre and Gilles, where mythology and the contemporary portrait become one.

Text from the Musée d’Orsay website

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Antonin Mercié. 'David' 1872

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Antonin Mercié
David
1872
Bronze
© Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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David LaChapelle. 'Eminem - About to Blow' 1999

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David LaChapelle
Eminem – About to Blow
1999
Chromogenic Print

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Giorgio de Chirico (1883-1966) 'Les bains mystérieux' (Mysterious Baths) c. 1934-36

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Giorgio de Chirico (1883-1966)
Les bains mystérieux (Mysterious Baths)
c. 1934-36
Tempera on card
39 x 31 cm
© Musei Civici Fiorentini – Raccolta Alberto Della Ragione

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Egon Schiele. 'Self-Portrait, Kneeling' 1910

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Egon Schiele
Self-Portrait, Kneeling
1910
© Leopold Museum / Manfred Thumberger

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Henri-Camille-Danger.-Fléau!,-1901. Paris, musée d'Orsay-WEB

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Henri-Camille-Danger
Fléau! (Scourge!)
1901
© Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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Koloman Moser. 'Le Printemps' (Spring) c. 1900

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Koloman Moser
Le Printemps (Spring)
c. 1900

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Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) 'Grand Guerrier avec Jambe' 1893-1902

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Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929)
Grand Guerrier avec Jambe
1893-1902
Bronze

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George Platt Lynes. 'Le Somnambule (The Sleepwalker)' 1935

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George Platt Lynes
Le Somnambule (The Sleepwalker)
1935
© Christoph Irrgang, Hamburg

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Lutteurs d'Alexandre. 'Falguière' 1875

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Lutteurs d’Alexandre
Falguière
1875
© Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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Lucian Freud. 'Naked Man on Bed' 1989

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Lucian Freud
Naked Man on Bed
1989
Oil on canvas

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Lucian Freud. 'David and Eli' 2004

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Lucian Freud
David and Eli
2004
Oil on canvas

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Masculin / Masculin – La video on YouTube

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Musée d’Orsay
62, rue de Lille
75343 Paris Cedex 07
France

Opening hours:
9.30am – 6pm
9.30am – 9.45pm on Thursdays
Closed on Mondays

Musée d’Orsay website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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