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Quaintance, George (1902-1957)  
 
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Although now obscure, George Quaintance was one of the most influential figures in a unique American style of art and one of the most flamboyant and interesting gay characters for four decades of the twentieth century.

Though few people outside the gay world know it, Quaintance was a pioneer of male physique painting. This genre heralded a new American gay consciousness in the early 1950s.

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Born June 3, 1902, in the tiny rural community of Page County, Virginia, Quaintance left home to study art in New York City in 1920. At age 18, he began studies at the prestigious Art Students League, which counted Georgia O'Keeffe among its graduates. His teachers included Ashcan School founder Robert Henri and the Polish-born American expressionist Max Weber.

Quaintance's drawing and painting soon took second place among his multiple artistic interests, however. He became enamored of the ballet and other dance forms. He studied with some of the great Russian émigré ballet dancers then in New York.

By 1928, Quaintance led classical and jazz dance instruction with friend and teacher, Sonia Serova. He also danced with a touring vaudeville group, the Collegiates. Quaintance's dance obsession led to a startling twist in his life. When his dance partner, Frances Craig, became ill, he met Miriam Chester, a classically trained ballerina. They formed a "professional partnership" and in August 1929, they married.

Both the marriage and partnership were short-lived. By July 4, 1930, Quaintance was pictured in the Washington Evening Star with a new partner, listed only by her first name, Karen.

From his teen years, Quaintance was obviously and actively homosexual. However, he was quite discreet and totally closeted among family, friends, and adoring fans in his native Virginia, repeating a pattern then quite common of gay men who left home in order to lead a homosexual life. During the 1930s and early 1940s, Quaintance often returned to Page County to direct musical revues and stage presentations using local talent.

In 1938, he spent an extended time in his hometown with his new lover, a handsome young native Puerto Rican named Victor Garcia. Garcia became the artist's model, life partner, and business associate until Quaintance's untimely death, despite the coming and going of several other handsome young Hispanic lovers.

Quaintance's sexual orientation aside, women always played significant roles in his life. He adored his mother, Ella Belle, and she doted upon him in turn. She even convinced him to create a mural for her church in 1933. Quaintance, who sometimes used himself as a model, appears as a handsome blond man at the feet of Christ. The colorful mural still reigns over the baptismal font at a Baptist church in Stanley, Virginia.

Women, in general, sparked the next unexpected phase in the artist's career. An article in Quaintance's hometown newspaper in 1938 boasted that he was "acclaimed as America's foremost coiffure designer." In addition, the artist had turned his formidable talents to all sorts of popular design--stage sets, elegant interiors, department store windows on New York's Fifth Avenue, women's makeup, and, most notably, hair designs.

He created elaborate hairdos for Gloria Swanson, Jeannette MacDonald, Lily Pons, dozens of other Hollywood stars, New York socialites, and the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. His styles, some adapted for the heads of his male models, created beauty-parlor sensations across America as the 1930s ended.

In the meantime, Quaintance had added photography to his list of accomplishments, gaining lessons and experience from such well-known New York photographers as Edwin Townsend and Lon Hanagan (Lon of New York, 1911-1999). The latter became a pioneer of the "beefcake" school of photography whose models in the 1940s included male physique icon and dancer Tony Sansone and Quaintance's own well-muscled lover, Garcia.

In a 1996 interview for Torso Magazine, Lon reported that to make his male nudes suitable for his first photography catalogue in 1941, he called upon "the touch of groundbreaking gay painter George Quaintance, a friend and neighbor of Lon's who would pop over and paint luminous (fig) leaves directly on Lon's prints" to cover the models' genitals.

Despite his success in photography and other fields, Quaintance never abandoned his painting.

In January 1939, an article in Picture and Gift Journal declared the artist's paintings of female figures " 'glamour nudes' who have all it takes to 'knock 'em dead' . . . ."

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Top to bottom:
1) A portrait of Quaintance by Edwin Townsend.
2) Shore Leave (1952), one of some sixty male nude paintings by Quaintance.
3) Quaintance's painting Cover Art (1957) as it appeared on the cover of DemiGods in December, 1962.
4) Detail from a near-life size mural Quaintance painted for his mother's church in Stanley, Virginia in 1933.

  
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