Tom of Finland‘s remarkable work has been a familiar wellspring of homoerotic imagery for decades; less familiar, perhaps, but every bit as striking is the work of George Quaintance, who specialized in men’s muscle magazines starting in the 1930s. The list of magazines for which Quaintance worked makes for amusing reading: Gay French Life, Ginger, Movie Humor, Movie Merry Go-Round, Snappy Detective Mysteries, Snappy Stories, Stolen Sweets, and Tempting Tales.
It’s difficult to look at these images and not think of Touko Laaksonen, a.k.a. Tom of Finland. Quaintance was Laaksonen’s senior by about 20 years, and had been active since the 1930s—Tom of Finland didn’t get going until the mid-1950s, which was right around when Quaintance died. All the sources agree that Quaintance was a major influence on Tom of Finland; it seems like one of the easier judgments in the field of art history.
Eight years ago the indispensable 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.
This is quite right. Quaintance’s images are creamy and idealized, certainly without even a hint of violence, while Tom of Finland did far more to set the template for rougher side of gay courtship. Whereas Tom of Finland’s men are often stand ramrod straight, Quaintance’s figures are often contorted in a kind of implied agony.
Most fascinating in Quaintance’s work is the status of the penis. Working thirty years before Stonewall and forty-five years before the rise of AIDS as a national topic of discourse, Quaintance had to occupy a semi-legal space where the homoeroticism was winked at, signaled solely by bulges—but in some of the nude shots, the apparent absence of the penis becomes almost concerning, as in the image of the two men underwater, or the one on the ranch with the narrow wading pool. The best, of course, is the one of a campfire where a perfectly placed cowboy boot serves as a potent visual reminder of, well, what might be lurking behind the boot.
There is an excellent book on Quaintance by Reed Massengill published by Taschen.
More remarkable images behind the jump…..
Posted by Martin Schneider |
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