Artist Spotlight: Emlen Etting

Philadelphia Main Line society artist Emlen Etting was happily married, but he sure painted a lot of sailors.

BY Christopher Harrity

August 24 2013 3:00 AM ET

At left: A self-portrait

Available information about Emlen Etting — a Philadelphia Main Line society painter of the mid-century — tends to raise more questions than it answers. From our contemporary perspective we see a man who was "in the closet." But so many men and women of that era made happy marriages with the opposite sex, that it seems to have been fairly accepted.

Cole Porter's wife, Linda, certainly knew of his relationships with men. Famous decorator Elsie de Wolfe married Sir Charles Mendl (some say for the title) after a long, fairly well-known live-in relationship with political activist and heiress Bessie Marbury. Then there are the Duke and Duchess of Windsor — a totally iconoclastic relationship with a slightly kinky edge.

Wealth and social standing were often seen as the main prize of a well-considered marriage and partnership. And many of these "mixed marriages" were certainly happy. English diplomat Sir Harold English was the husband of writer Vita Sackville-West, and their unusual relationship being described in their son's book Portrait of a Marriage. They were extremely devoted to each other, but carried on with passionate affairs with members of their own sex.

At right: Gloria Braggiotti Etting

Whatever the actual nature of the marriage between Etting and his Italian society wife, Gloria Braggiotti, was, he certainly left a lot of male nudes and paintings of sailors in his estate. And the match was most likely a happy one. as stories of Gloria's preference for homosexual men are well-recorded.

Etting was born in 1905, the scion of a Philadelphia family so prominent that city streets bear both his first and his last names.

At left: Self-portrait as a sailor in rope frame

Once armed with his degree in French literature from Harvard, Etting went to live in Paris and began to study painting. After three years he returned to Philadelphia, where he married Gloria, the daughter of a wealthy Italian theatrical family and a accomplished photographer in her own right.

During World War II, Etting returned to Europe as a French announcer in London for the American Broadcasting Station, a posting that allowed him to do a quantity of paintings, drawings, and watercolors of servicemen, notably sailors.

Philly.com notes in a 1996 posting that Etting died in 1992 and that Gloria relocated to Palm Beach, Fla. Etting's works remain in the permanent collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Allentown Art Museum, and the Museum of American Art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Sources: Philly.com, Wikipedia

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