George Quaintance isn’t a household name like Tom of Finland, but he is a queer artist you need to know about.
As the preeminent ’male physique’ artist of the 1940s and early ’50s, Quaintance’s work for magazines such as Physique Pictorial, Demi-Gods and Body Beautiful inspired a generation of artists like Tom of Finland, Harry Bush, Etienne and countless others.
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.
Quaintance lived and worked during an era when homosexuality was repressed. His 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.
Quaintance died in 1957.
Sixty years later, the masculine fantasy world created by Quaintance, populated by Latin lovers, lusty cowboys and chiseled ranch hands, retains its seductive allure. His highly prized paintings rarely come to auction, instead selling privately for undisclosed sums.
John Coulthart wrote of the artist:
George Quaintance (1902-1957) was a pioneer of a variety of beefcake erotica that isn’t particularly to my taste but which today looks distinctly…quaint? Also distinctly old-fashioned since most of his men have Burt Lancaster quiffs, even the alleged Spartans towelling themselves. …
Quaintance’s world is a largely female-free dreamscape of perfectly-muscled glamour boys showing their bodies to one another but never doing anything so salacious as kissing. This is a utopia of good clean fun and fifty years ago was more than enough to pack an erotic charge for men starved of homoerotic imagery. From our perspective today it looks rather innocent; even the bulges in their jeans are restrained by comparison with the later excesses of Tom of Finland.
In 2010, Taschen released a book of Quaintance’s work.