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


Marsden Hartley
January 4, 1877 – September 2, 1943

After a hardscrabble childhood, Hartley was fortunate enough to study for a year with William Merritt Chase at his school. On an art retreat, he developed a strong pull toward Eastern religion and thought. His friendship with Alfred Steiglitz was a turning point and the occasion for his first show, in 1912. In 1914 after spending time with Gertrude Stein in Paris he landed in Weimar-era Berlin, a city of open sexual expression for gay men and women. His affair with a Prussian military officer influenced much of his work for years to come.