Before the Dawn of Tom

Tom of Finland is unarguably the most well-known gay erotic artist of the 20th century, but paving the way for his all-balls-out art was a group of American artists who created a more subtle, coded visual style.

BY Christopher Harrity

July 09 2011 3:00 AM ET


Charles Demuth
November 8, 1883 – October 23, 1935

Demuth’s most famous painting, I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, came later in his life (1928) and aimed the arrow of modernism toward the eventual target of pop art. But before that, his early career vacillated between lush watercolors of fluid line and sensuous fleshy details to precisionist images of silos and industrial machinery. Not flamboyant, he was still drawn to the bohemian life in Greenwich Village of the time and produced a cache of erotic works that were meant to entertain his friends but were unexhibitable during the period. He met Marsden Hartley in the avant-garde salons of Paris, and Hartley introduced him to Steiglitz. The Lafayette Baths in Manhattan were Demuth's favorite haunt. His 1918 homoerotic self-portrait in a Turkish bathhouse was likely set there.