When it comes to mid-century homoeroticism, one name comes to mind—Tom of Finland. His overtly homoerotic art defined a pre-Stonewall era, when overt gay art was not only not in vogue but flat-out illegal. Yet Finland and his contemporaries—Harry Bush and Etienne, among others—had a forerunner. George Quaintance, the 1940s and ’50s illustrator whose work will be on display with that of Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland; artists who explored the limits of the male physique before others dared to. Tom of Finland in his early career, in fact, aspired to become as good an artist as Quaintance.
One of the most invaluable resources was Tom of Finland Foundation, which held a large number of oils by Quaintance and it’s president and cofounder, Durk Dehner, who tracked down the last residence of Quaintance’s partner, Victor Garcia, and found Quaintance’s lifelong scrapbooks in a carport in Hollywood. Bob Mainardi and Trent Dunphy of The Magazine in San Francisco graciously made available their many original sketches, physique photos and various ephemera related to Quaintance, as well.
Before dying of heart failure in 1957, Quaintance’s work usually appeared in magazines that celebrated the male physique, including Body Beautiful, Demi-Gods and Physique Pictorial—publications that skirted tight content regulations by ostensibly appealing to bodybuilders and others with an acceptable and “healthy” interest in the male physique. His oil paintings featured full-color semi-nudes, pushing not only the homoerotic bounds of acceptability but the edges of polite society in the ’40s and ’50s. His painting Dashing was featured on the very first cover of Bob Mizer’s Physique Pictorial.
That same year, Tom of Finland’s first drawing appeared on a Physique Pictorial cover—a clear passing of the torch to the next generation. Dian Hanson, TASCHEN editor, states “No one worked in oil on canvas like Quaintance did, in the scale and with the facility he did, in the ’40s. Tom of Finland was a fantastic graphite, and pen & ink artist, however he produced less in color.”
Quaintance and his highcamp erotic art existed in a demi-monde of borderline legality. His subjects also veered from the mainstream, featuring many aspects common in the West. Spaniard and Mexican bullfighters and religious symbols populate his work, along with traditional oil paintings of cowboys and stereotypical masculine Western figures.
Quaintance was not a prolific painter, only producing 55 canvases during his lifetime. TASCHEN released a book of Quaintance’s art back in 2010, but the objective was always to spotlight the L.A.-based artist in an exhibition. Hanson recommends an in-person visit. “The results were a beautifully produced, large format book. It did justice to the work, but there’s nothing like seeing these big canvases in person!”
GEORGE QUAINTANCE – THE FIRST GAY CELEBRITY
BY RICHARD HAWKINS
TASCHEN is famous for books like Quaintance, The Complete Reprint of Physique Pictorial, Bob’s World and numerous titles on Tom of Finland, but also for their stunning Collector’s Editions. In the other half of the gallery every Collector’s Edition they’ve ever published is on view.