Right from the cover of the first issue of the first muscle magazine, Physique Pictorial, in 1950, George Quaintance was the advance guard of gay erotic art in the 1950s. His paintings portrayed a homoerotic Southwest from such a campy, even faggoty, point of view they were a leap forward for an underground gay culture that was just beginning to awaken. His sexy males were almost overtly subversive of the muscle magazines’ obligatory heterosexual facade, but not enough to keep them from frequently publishing his work.
Quaintance was the first among his contemporaries to pass away, in 1957. Many of them, including Tom of Finland and Bob Mizer, outlived him by almost 40 years. Consequently, today a biographer has a difficult time finding Quaintance’s paintings, much less his friends, lovers or models. Fortunately, the Tom of Finland Foundation has amassed a number of rare materials on Quaintance and much initial research was done by its president, Durk Dehner. By building on this material and on the personal remembrances of close friends like the Rev. Robert W. Wood, I am beginning to see a shadowy trail emerge.
The above photograph of young Quaintance from his own scrapbooks shows him as a lithe, stylish youth of the late Teens and Roaring Twenties. However, anyone who remembers Quaintance from the ’50s knew him as the muscular blond seen below. Whether these photos betray an early Valentino-esque affectation or a later “gentlemen prefer blondes” coloring, it may, in the end, be too late to tell.
An interesting life is unfolding: a birthdate 10 years earlier than he would later have people believe, a childhood in Virginia, a move to New York where, in the late ‘20s, he had a surprisingly successful stint as an adagio dancer on the vaudeville stage, followed in the ‘30s by a side-career as a touring “coiffure designer”, before moving in the late ‘40s to Hollywood where he developed a painting style and subject matter which was to forge the direction of male art and photography for many years before the final move to his beloved Arizona in the early ‘50s.
During the last ten years of his life George enjoyed frequently-tumultuous relationships with the macho Mexican-American models who epitomized his desires. Many of the blonds in George’s paintings from the 50s are reputed to be self-portraits, somewhat idealized, of course.
What has been most exciting for me so far is having found out that, of the approximately 50 paintings from Quaintance’s physique period, over 30 are in good condition and reside in the homes of private collectors.
By Richard Hawkins, 1997
George Quaintance was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the only son of a Stanley Virginia, farming family. From a very early age, he spent much of his time doodling. His parents, with some foresight, realized he would never be a farmer and didn’t force him into their way of life. Instead, they supplied him with paint and brushes and, later, with fine art training. In his early twenties, he moved to NYC, working primarily for advertising firms. By the ’40s, he had moved to LA to dedicate his life to painting the incredible images he’s best known for.
In the ’50s, one last move took him to Phoenix, where he could be surrounded by the Western scenery he loved to paint. He spent the rest of his life painting commissions, running his mail-order business selling reproductions and sculpture, and maintaining a ranch with a large staff of cowboys, a series of hispanic lovers, assistants and friends.
Quaintance died in a LA hospital of a heart-attack on November 9, 1957 and is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
F. Valentine Hooven III’s book, Beefcake published by Benedikt Taschen Verlag features a Quaintance on the cover, a short synopsis of his life and a few color reproductions.