IotD: An Intimate Glimpse of Francis Rose by Christopher Wood

Nude in a Bedroom Francis Rose by Christopher Wood 1930

Portraits by Sir Francis Rose have been featured previously on this site; here he becomes the subject of an intimate bedroom scene by fellow British painter Christopher “Kit” Wood. The two men were lovers at the time, and the scene is the room they shared at the Hôtel Ty-Mad overlooking the Tréboul Bay in north-western France (it looks like the hotel is still there, but has changed quite a bit over the years!).

I quite like the commentary on the painting Richard Ingleby provides in his 1995 biography of Wood:

Nude Boy in a Bedroom, in keeping with Rose’s tone, was one of Wood’s more overtly erotic paintings, not because the model is a boy and the boy is naked, but because the model is not obviously modelling. He is washing himself, going about his normal, private business in the corner of his bedroom. It is an intimate portrayal of everyday domesticity. This is presumably what Rose would have us believe when he prefaced his description of the picture with the sentiment ‘I loved him deeply” (246).

Referring to several sketches depicting similar scenes, Ingleby notes that they all have “an unmistakably post-coital feel” (246).

Wood’s expressive paintings and fascinating life has recently sparked my interest; this is almost certainly not his first appearance here.

Provenance

Nude Boy in a Bedroom (1930)
Christopher “Kit” Wood
Oil on hardboard
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Works Cited

Ingleby, Richard. Christopher Wood: An English Painter. London: Allison & Busby, 1995. Print.

IotD: Djuna Barnes’s Brevity

djuna barnes signed postcard to robert wilson 1970

This made me smile when I saw it; it seems to so perfectly encapsulate the punctilious austerity that defined Barnes’s public persona during the last decades of her life. The brief description provided on the auction listing confirms the recipient as Robert Wilson, owner of the Phoenix Bookshop in Greenwich Village. What Barnes is specifically declining remains unspecified—and almost preferably so.

 

IotD: Wescott & Wheeler’s Queer Domesticity

While searching online for something else entirely I stumbled across this lovely image of Glenway Wescott (left) and Monroe Wheeler (right) at home.

glenway wescott monroe wheeler stone-blossom by bernard perlin

Taken by their friend painter Bernard Perlin around 1947, it depicts the two men at Stone-blossom, the farmhouse the two men shared. Stone-blossom was located on Wescott’s brother and sister-in-law’s large rural farm in Hampton, New Jersey. Biographer Jerry Rosco has written that the home “balanced Wescott and Wheeler’s world,” and quotes Ralph Pomeroy’s impression of it: “this was an eighteenth-century household, filled with art, music, literature, sculpture, and wonderful talk” (156). Wescott lived there full time while Wheeler, who was director of exhibitions at MOMA, commuted back and forth from New York City.

According to information included on the bernardperlin.com flickr site, the three portraits about the fireplace are silverpoints of Lloyd Wescott, W. Somerset Maugham, and E.M. Forster by Perlin.

Provenance

Wescott and Wheeler at Stone-blossom (circa 1947)
Bernard Perlin
bernardperlin.com flickr sitebernardperlin.com

Works Cited

Rosco, Jerry. Glenway Wescott Personally: A Biography. Madison, WI: U of Wisconsin, 2002. Print.

IotD: The Unexpected Collaboration of Alice B. Toklas and Picasso

Needlepoint might not be what most think of when they think of modernist art, but we’ve actually featured it here before. Below are two examples of Alice B. Toklas’s needlepoint, taken from designs by Pablo Picasso.

alice b toklas picasso needlepoint chairsalice b toklas picasso needlepoint chair 1alice b toklas picasso needlepoint chair 2

Juliet Clark from SFMOMA has a really nice write-up that prominently features these two chairs, including a lengthy excerpt from The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas that relates the series of events that led to their creation.

The two chairs, before Toklas transformed them, can actually be glimpsed in the famous Man Ray portrait of the two women in their shared home at 27, rue de Fleurus (Alice is sitting in one of them):

man ray portrait stein toklas

Yet another reason to (re)consider Toklas as an accomplished artist in her own right.

Provenance:

Alice B. Toklas (from a design by Pablo Picasso)
Two armchairs, fabric and wood
Source: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Man Ray, c. 1922
Gelatin silver print
Source: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

IotD: George Platt Lynes Needlepoint

George Platt Lynes needlepoint of Jared French design

The design is a copy of his friend Jared French’s painting Elemental Play (1946).

A closer look at the intricate handiwork:

As well as the original version of Elemental Play:

Jared French Elemental PlayPlatt Lynes recreated the overall composition of French’s painting almost exactly, but along with some alteration in the color scheme, there are several fascinating minor divergences as well. Consider, for example, that Platt Lynes added genitals to the male figure on the left—perhaps not surprising considering how closely associated the photographer has become with his erotic art.

In his tripartite biography Intimate Companions David Leddick records that Platt Lynes took up needlepoint during the six year period (1937 – 1943) he lived with Glenway Wescott and Monroe Wheeler in an unconventional ménage à trois arrangement. Leddick also includes a photo of another example of Platt Lynes’s needlepoint, also designed by French (perhaps the subject of a future post.)

A lesser known but nonetheless fascinating expression of the great photographer’s extensive creative oeuvre.

The cushion is currently for sale; price unknown.

Provenance:

George Platt Lynes (from a design by Jared French)
Needlepoint in wool
Source: Kylix Collection

Jared French, c. 1946
Source: The Red List

Works Cited

Leddick, David. Intimate Companions: A Triography of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus, Lincoln Kirstein, and Their Circle. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000.

IotD: Charles Henri Ford Writes Joseph Cornell from Italy

Over the last few days I’ve spent some time digging into the wonderfully expansive online holdings of the Joseph Cornell Papers maintained by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art website. Cornell sustained a lively correspondence with Ford, Parker Tyler, and a number of individuals pertinent to this site, and as the intricate networks formed by the queer modernists is a topic of particular interest to me, I plan to start featuring these visual traces and mementos that offer small, illuminating glimpses into various social connections.

To start off, this lively (and very legible–not always a given!) postcard from Ford to Cornell sent in 1954. Ford’s humorous indication of his “room” in the Italian town of Frascati certainly is in line with his sly, wicked sense of humor:

Charles Henri Ford postcard of Frascati to Joseph Cornell (front)

Charles Henri Ford postcard of Frascati to Joseph Cornell (back)

Deborah Solomon reports in her biography of Cornell that Ford and Cornell “began corresponding in 1939, after Ford wrote to Cornell to propose that they collaborate on a volume of poems and collages.” Cornell was apparently flattered by the suggestion, but “saw little possibility of an artistic partnership” demurring to Ford in a letter due to his “total lack of interest in psychoanalysis and the current preoccupation with sex.” But even if a full collaborative effort never came to fruition, Cornell’s nonetheless provide Ford a whimsical cover for his poetry collection ABC‘spublished in 1940.

The reference to author Isak Dinesen (pen name of Karen Blixen) in this note is an interesting one, as Solomon’s records that “when Ford gave [Cornell] a copy of Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales, he inscribed the book: ‘Joseph, these were written for you.'”

Ford’s indispensable published journal Water from a Bucket indicates that he and Tchelitchew (Pavlik)’s time in Frascati stretched into early 1956. I particularly like this uncharacteristically fanciful musing–the sole entry for November of 1954:

I took a terrace walk and saw the most brilliant falling star–I always make the same wish: Love.

A sentiment that seems, quite honestly, much more in line with Cornell’s romantic sensibility than Ford’s bawdier, unsentimental impulses.

 

Provenance:
General Correspondence: Ford, Charles Henri, 1939-1970
Joseph Cornell Papers, 1804-1986
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Works Cited

Ford, Charles Henri. Water from a Bucket: A Diary, 1948-1957. New York City: Turtlepoint, 2001.

Solomon, Deborah. Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997.

IotD: Queer Spaces in “A Night-Club Map of Harlem”

In my internet searching I’ve come across this vivid cartoon map of Harlem several times now, but until today I hadn’t really taken the time to look at what is actually depicted. Frank Jacobs gives a terrific and detailed overview of the map here, and explains that it is the work of Elmer Simms Campbell (1906-1971), “the first African-American cartoonist to be published nationally.” In the bottom right corner it is listed as being “engraved and copyrighted in 1932.”

Elmer Simms Campbell Harlem Map 1932

What I was most curious about was whether or not the map gave any indications of a queer presence in the Harlem of the early 1930’s. The historical importance of Harlem to the queer community is well known; as George Chauncey notes in the ever-essential Gay New York, while Greenwich Village “was considered the city’s most infamous gay neighborhood by outsiders” in the 20’s and 30’s, “many gay men themselves regarded Harlem as the most exciting center of gay life” (227). So is this indicated at all in Campbell’s map?

Daniel Crouch Rare Books has a nice high-quality scan of the map which allows for close(r) inspection. As far as my eyes can tell, nothing queer is obviously conveyed, none of the people or places depicted signal queerness of any kind: the patrons are all heterosexually paired, none of the performers or proprietors—except for one major and well-known exception, described below—don clothing or assume gestures that could be considered suspect. A pairing of two men up in the top left corner might be construed as a covert cruising encounter, but the attributed dialogue (“what’s da numbah?”) is revealed in the description at the bottom as a common reference to gambling. In short, Campbell’s representation of Harlem doesn’t seem to offer up any queer secrets.

However, “a handful of clubs catered to lesbians and gay men,” Chauncey writes, “including the Hobby Horse, Tillie’s Kitchen, and the Dishpan, and other well-known clubs, including Small’s Paradise, welcomed their presence” (252). Two of these, Tillie’s Kitchen and Small’s Paradise, are accounted for by Campbell:

 

Which brings us, finally, to the map’s single overtly queer presence, located literally at the center of Campbell’s map: Gladys Bentley at the piano at the Clam House. Bentley is a fascinating pioneering figure I can’t do justice to here (The Root provides a nice appreciation here though), but, to return once again to Chauncey, Bentley is characterized as “the most visible lesbian” in Harlem at that time, “as famous for her tuxedo, top hat, and girlfriends as for her singing” (252). Here’s how Campbell depicts the notorious entertainer—an imposing and androgynous figure at the piano—alongside a now-iconic photo of her:

According to Chauncey, the Clam House “attracted an interracial audience of literati and entertainers, including many gay and lesbians;” Carl Van Vechten based a character on Bentley in one of his novels. She certainly deserves her own post at some point here at Queer Modernisms, but to close I can’t resist quoting one of her famously ad-libbed songs which she generously adorned with “filthy lyrics” and then “encourag[ed] her audience to join in singing.” As Chauncey records it,  Bentley transformed the standard “Sweet Georgia Brown” into “Alice Blue Gown,” an “ode to anal intercourse:”

And he said ‘Dearie, please turn around!’
And he shoved that big thing up my brown.
He tore it. I bored it. Lord, how I adored it.
My sweet little Alice Blue Gown. (252).

My, my: sounds like a gay ol’ time indeed!

Works Cited:

Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic, 1994. Print.

IotD: Christian William Miller, Lover & Muse

Two striking images unearthed in the Beinecke Library‘s Glenway Wescott papers:

Christian William Miller by Glenway Wescott

Christian William Miller and Monroe Wheeler by Glenway Wescott

From Jerry Roscoe’s Glenway Wescott Personally: A Biography:

Wheeler and Wescott’s friends included a number of young lovers. One, Christian William Miller, or Bill Miller, had been one of the most strikingly beautiful of George [Platt Lynes]’s models. Miller was a lover of Wheeler’s and a family friend for many years. A later Wheeler intimate, Ralph Pomeroy, remembered, ‘Bill would go to a gallery and all the women and all the men would faint!’ […] Charles Kaiser’s gay history of New York, The Gay Metropolis, states, ‘Bill Miller is also famous among his contemporaries as one of the most gorgeous men in 1940s Manhattan. Paul Cadmus drew him, George Platt Lynes photographed him, and everyone wanted him.’ (121)

The indispensable Font Free Endpaper has a post on Miller with more information, as well what appears to be another image taken at the same time as the second image above.

Perhaps a series on the many artistic iterations of the gorgeous Miller as muse is in order…

Provenance:

Christian William Miller, ca. 1945-60
Source: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Christian William Miller and Monroe Wheeler, ca. 1945-60
Source: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Works Cited:

Rosco, Jerry. Glenway Wescott Personally: A Biography. Madison: U of Wisconsin, 2002. Print.

 

IotD: America Through the Eyes of Florine Stettheimer

There seems no better way to mark the Fourth of July weekend than to consider Florine Stettheimer’s Cathedral series, her four large paintings that Linda Nochlin describes as “grand, secular shrines dedicated to the celebration of American life” (107). All four of the paintings, The Cathedrals of Broadway (1929), The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue (1931), The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939), and The Cathedrals of Art (1944), are currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection.

As seen in the photo below, the Met displays the paintings together on a single wall, creating a lively, prismatic-like panorama of New York City life in the first decades of the twentieth century. The close proximity also draws attention, I imagine, to Stettheimer’s wry sense of humor and incredible attention to detail, which at once seems whimsical and precise. Nochlin considers the Cathedrals as being “perhaps the most consistent and ambitious expressions of Stettheimer’s social consciousness,” and the paintings certainly exude an exuberant, celebratory tone. But at the same time, “beneath the glowing admiration for American institutions and personae in this work… exists a pointed and knowing critique of them as well” (107, 113).

While the nature of this critiques isn’t always immediately accessible to a contemporary viewer, Stettheimer embedded within all paintings individuals and incidents that would have been recognizable to the New York artistic and cultural communities, of which she and her mothers and two sisters were considered to be major figures due to the fashionable salons they hosted. Marcel Duchamp in particular was a close friend of both the family and Stettheimer herself, and while I would never go so far to call her own style “surrealistic,” she certainly possesses a sly sense of humor and capturing a sense of absurdity in these paintings and throughout her entire body of work–qualities which I think allow her to capture a glimpse into American society and culture that, many decades after they were painted, continues to resonate with my own perspective of this country.

florine stettheimer cathedrals of broadway

The Cathedrals of Broadway (1929)

florine stettheimer cathedrals of fifth avenue

The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue (1931)

florine stettheimer cathedrals of wall street

The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939)

florine stettheimer cathedrals of art

The Cathedrals of Art (1944)

WORKS CITED

Nochlin, Linda. “Florine Stettheimer: Rococo Subversive.” 1980. Florine Stettheimer: Manhattan Fantastica. Ed. Elisabeth Sussman and Barbara J. Bloemink. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1995.

PROVENANCE

The Cathedrals of Broadway (1929), The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue (1931), The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939), and The Cathedrals of Art (1944)
Florine Stettheimer
Oil on Canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Full size images via Art Spheric

Iotd: John Ashbery’s Collage Work

john ashbery collage the painter

“The Painter” (2014) by John Ashbery 

Exactly how I managed to be unaware until today that John Ashbery is an accomplished collage artist is something of a mystery, but now that a blog post over at The Paris Review has alerted me of the situation I’ve spent a pleasurable morning rectifying this situation.

According to the press release put out by New York City’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery, Ashbery has made collages ever since he was an undergraduate student at Harvard in the 1940’s, and goes on to note that Ashbery’s “approach to poetry and collage is very much the same.” I admittedly have little experience with Ashbery’s prolific body of work, but this observation certainly applies to my memories of reading Flow Chart (1991), which remains my most sustained interaction with Ashbery to date (which reminds me, I really, really must take on Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror one of these days).

This is the fourth exhibition of Ashbery’s collage work, and in 2008 when he exhibited his visual art for the first time at the age of 81, the New York Times ran a nice overview by Holland Cotter of this branch of the poet’s career. Reportedly friend and New York City School associate Joe Brainard encouraged Ashbery’s interest in collage work, and the piece includes a lovely anecdote about Ashbery visiting Brainard in Vermont in the 1970’s, and that “after dinner[they] got in the habit of sitting around and cutting up old magazines and making collages.”

chutes and ladders collage john ashbery

Chutes and Ladders (for Joe Brainard) (2008)

Regarding Ashbery’s collage work in general, Cotter states:

“One thing he obviously values in collage is its implied anyone-can-do-it modesty, its lack of high-artiness, its resistance to monumentality. His own collages have this character. They’re light and slight. They feel more like keepsakes than like art objects, souvenirs of a life and career that gain interest primarily — some might say entirely — within the context of that life and career.”

I like that a lot, and at this point I’ll just let the images themselves speak for themselves. The Tibor’s current show is a joint exhibition of recent collage work by Ashbery and Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, an honorary queer artist if there ever was one (if you haven’t experienced the surreal pleasures of Sissy Boy Slap Party, do yourself the favor–it’s four minutes well spent). Maddin’s collage work is wonderful too, and well worth checking out. Several more images from the current exhibit, which runs through July 31, 2015:

john ashbery collage bingo beethoven

“Bingo Beethoven” (2014) 

john ashbery collage P.K.

“P.K.” (2015) 

Collage work featured in previous exhibitions at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, via the New York Times:

john ashbery collage acrobats 1972

“Acrobats” (c. 1972)

john ashbery collage Apres un reve 1977

“Apres un Reve” (c. 1977) 

john ashbery collage Mannerist Concern

“Mannerist Concern” (2008)