Text JF. Pierets Photos Courtesy of TASCHEN
George Quaintance was an artist ahead of his time, a man who forged several successful careers, yet never enjoyed mainstream fame. Had he been born a few decades later, we might know him today as a multi-tasking celebrity stylist, as a coach on Dancing with the Stars, or perhaps as the fine artist he aspired to be. But Quaintance, who died in 1957, lived and worked during an era when homosexuality was repressed, when his joyful paintings and physique photos could not depict a penis.
In an era before Stonewall, the sexual revolution, gay rights and the AIDS crisis, Quaintance and his high-camp erotic art existed in a demi-monde of borderline legality. The Master Painter of the Male Physique, was out in an age when out was not only risky, but largely illegal. Raised on a farm in rural Virginia, Quaintance traveled a fascinating path of reinvention: at various points in his life he was a Vaudeville dancer, the favored portraitist of Washington’s smart set, and a celebrity hair designer—though he never actually touched hair. In 1982, The Voice stated, “Quaintance was gifted with so much drive and artistic talent that he had the ability to transcend the puritanical restrictions of the times and leave us something of his daring imagination in his paintings”.
Seventy years since the creation of his first physique painting of a masculine fantasy world, populated by Greek gods, Latin lovers, lusty cowboys and chiseled ranch hands, the work retains its seductive allure. As the preeminent male physique artist of the 1940s and early 1950s, his work for photographer and gay publishing pioneer Bob Mizer’s Physique Pictorial, Demi-Gods and Body Beautiful, inspired a generation of artists like Tom of Finland, Harry Bush, Etienne, and other, lesser stars in their constellation. His highly prized oil paintings—numbering just 55—rarely come to auction; instead they are traded privately among an avid and secretive group of fans—until the TASCHEN gallery in LA showed a tribute.
TASCHEN’s book Quaintance, traces his remarkable life story and reintroduces his colorful, kitschy and culturally resonant paintings. Work that made George Quaintance the most popular and successful physique artist of his time, and one of its most intriguing figures.
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