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#TBT: The Mid-Century Paradise of George Quaintance

#TBT: The Mid-Century Paradise of George Quaintance

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Above: Quaintance designed 11 covers for Joe Weider's Your Physique, featuring prominent bodybuilders. It is not known what became of the paintings these covers were based on.

Demand for his work was nearly unquenchable. To the public, Quaintance offered catalogs of his paintings, sculptures and models; black and white photographs, and color slides, of nearly all his paintings; model photographs in several sizes; and several different sculptures, which he called “little figurines.” Later, Quaintance offered full-color lithographs of some of his paintings, plus hand-tinted color photographs. After George’s death, boxes were discovered containing printer’s proofs of color lithographs of every Quaintance painting (except for Noise in the Night, which was mysteriously absent) that had not yet been reproduced in color, so it was apparently his intention to soon offer his fans everything in color.

In the previously mentioned letter to the Reverend Wood, Quaintance wrote that a single issue of Tomorrow’s Man, in March, 1953, added almost 5,000 new names to his mailing list, so the success of his marketing strategies was phenomenal. Christopher Clarke, a contemporary of Quaintance, also painted male nudes. Clarke was regarded as the better painter by many at the time. Mentored by Bob Delmonteque, he copied Quaintance’s business model down to the last detail. He offered 8x10 black and white photographs of his paintings, greeting cards, cocktail napkins, color slides and compact catalogs. But despite his artistic skill and the erotic quality of his images, Clarke failed to capture the imagination of his public. He did not acquire masses of fans, and he is forgotten today.

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Above: Quaintance explains projection techniques. (Physique Pictorial 2, February 1952)

Because of George’s deteriorating health and constant traveling between Los Angeles and Phoenix, in 1956 he decided to sell Rancho Siesta and move his studio back to California. An ad in the Summer 1957 issue of Physique Pictorial announced, “Quaintance has moved to Hollywood!” His demand as a portrait artist in Hollywood and his close involvement with Bob Mizer in the production of Physique Pictorial made it impractical to leave Los Angeles for long periods of time. George had also developed a heart condition, although he may have been in denial about the seriousness of his cardiac problems, or he may have minimized it to others. He and Victor made offhand references to George’s “little seizures,” but the Reverend Wood states outright that George had a heart attack in 1956. As a result, Quaintance’s doctor put him on a rigid diet. Living in Los Angeles would provide more rapid access to medical treatment, and probably better doctors than Phoenix had to offer at the time.

The decision to move to Los Angeles was accompanied by a shift in Quaintance’s artistic vision, as if abandoning Rancho Siesta was an action both literal and metaphorical. Rodeo Victor, painted in 1956, was the final canvas of the Rancho Siesta era: Quaintance’s farewell to the West. It was also the smallest canvas Quaintance had painted to date, a mere 22x30 inches. It’s tempting to infer that deteriorating health necessitated a switch to smaller canvases that could be completed more easily.

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At left: Two Quaintance sculptures Janssen recast in bronze.

Quaintance continued to use 22x30-inch canvases for the remainder of his works. His next five canvases, the last of which he did not live to complete, represented a sea change in content. Suddenly he became focused not on cowboys, but on gods and mythology: Zeus, Bacchus, Hercules, and Odin. By mid-1957, Quaintance’s ads in the various physique publications began carrying his new Los Angeles mailing address: Box 2236 Terminal Annex. Rancho Siesta was put up for sale, although Tom Syphers says in a letter written to the Reverend Wood, “Our attempts to sell the place have been a little half-hearted, since we refuse to have a For Sale sign on the lawn or have it listed in the papers.”

In the final analysis, Quaintance was the “man behind the curtain” of the lavender palace he called Rancho Siesta. Quaintance articulated a vision of his own creation that was unique and original, and that spawned dozens of imitators, copycats, admirers … and tributes. While paying homage to the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome, he at the same time offered a newly idealized concept of ideal male beauty: sleek, sculpted, streamlined and sinewy. Gone was the bulky massive musculature of bodybuilders like Eugen Sandow that was so prized earlier in the century. The perfect V-shaped torso became the new black of masculinity and pulchritude, thanks to George. In the 1950s, when Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts for gays and homosexuals dominated politics and made grown men tremble, gay men, young and old, all over the world found in Quaintance’s works a validation of themselves. Here they could see the ideal of manhood actualized, regardless of sexual attraction.

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