Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

October 29, 2010 - February 13, 2011
Exhibited in Washington, D.C. at the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery

What happens when one looks for what has been previously suppressed or overlooked: in this case the existence of lesbian and gay relationships and representations in the Archive?

Lesbian and gay artists have made a strong imprint on American art for at least two centuries. No matter how they identified themselves—straight, gay, bisexual, or queer—many of the artists in this exhibit belonged to creative communities that were unusually welcoming to nonconformist gender roles. In these circles, artists felt free to represent homoerotic images. Indeed, lesbian and gay visual, literary, and performing artists were the first in American history to live openly in same-sex relationships and express their sexuality, well before the modern lesbian and gay civil rights movement.

And yet into the late 20th century, many artists did not feel safe to talk and write about same-sex desire, except with lovers and other intimates, if at all. The guarded way these artists refer to love and personal relationships is in sharp contrast to a new generation of lesbian and gay artists, for whom the imperative to come out of the closet is essential to their creativity and to their politics.

The Archives of American Art contains numerous letters, photographs, unpublished writings and rare printed material that document the lives of gay American artists. This exhibition presents glimpses into their sometimes private, sometimes “out” lives, careers and communities.

This exhibition is curated by Jonathan Weinberg and funded by the Lawrence A. Fleischman Endowment.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe, circa 1920

Creator: Alfred Stieglitz

Although Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) may never have had an affair with a woman, she was unusually charismatic, and it was not unusual for both men and women to fall in love with her. In this remarkable image, one among the hundreds of photographs Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) took of O’Keeffe during their romance and marriage, Stieglitz emphasizes O’Keeffe’s androgynous good looks.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Figure study using men posed as boxers standing in a field

Figure study using men posed as boxers standing in a field, ca. 1883

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Beauford Delaney and Lawrence Calcagno at a Parisian cafe

Beauford Delaney and Lawrence Calcagno at a Parisian cafe, 1953

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Beauford Delaney, Paris, France letter to Lawrence Calcagno

Beauford Delaney, Paris, France letter to Lawrence Calcagno, 1953 Dec. 22

Creator: Beauford Delaney

For the abstract expressionist Beauford Delaney (1901–1979), artist and teacher Lawrence Calcagno (1913–1993) was one of the mainstays of his troubled life. Calcagno provided him with economic as well as emotional support. Delaney wrote Calcagno letters of thanks and love in which he discreetly referred to their shared experience of being gay and feeling marginalized.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Harper's Bazaar memorandum about the exhibit Nude environment

Harper's Bazaar memorandum about the exhibit Nude environment, 1966 February 25

Creator: Harper's Bazaar

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Nan Mason and Wilna Hervey in Italy

Nan Mason and Wilna Hervey in Italy, 1926 Dec. 19

As an actress, Wilna Hervey (1894–1979) was best known for her role as the Powerful Katrinka in the Toonerville Trolley silent film comedies. In 1920, she met Nan Mason (1896–1982), daughter of silent film actor (and Hervey’s costar) Dan Mason. The women were lifelong companions until Hervey’s death in 1979. They mailed this snapshot to Dan Mason while on vacation in Italy. Hervey and Mason both pursued careers as artists and for many years lived in the bohemian artist colony in Woodstock, New York.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Poem Visuals, invitation to Andy Warhol and Gerard Malanga poetry

Poem Visuals, invitation to Andy Warhol and Gerard Malanga poetry, 1964

Poet, photographer, and filmmaker Gerard Malanga (b. 1943) was Warhol’s chief assistant and the star of many of his earliest films. As Warhol’s pop art became more successful throughout the 1960s, Malanga and the rest of the Warhol “Factory” took over the work of producing Warhol’s paintings and sculptures.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Thomas Eakins and J. Laurie Wallace posing at water's edge

Thomas Eakins and J. Laurie Wallace posing at water's edge, ca. 1883

Although Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) was married, art historians have raised questions about his sexual identity, because of Eakins’s practice of photographing himself and his male students in the nude and because of homoerotic themes in his art. He famously wrote his father: “I can conceive of few circumstances wherein I would have to paint a woman naked, but if I did I would not mutilate her for double the money. She is the most beautiful thing there is—except a naked man...”

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Scrapbook relating to Emma Stebbins

Scrapbook relating to Emma Stebbins, 1858-1882

Creator: Mary Stebbins Garland

Emma Stebbins (1815–1882) was one of group of expatriate American sculptors who worked in Rome. This drawing and the scrapbook kept by her sister Mary include images of Stebbins’s lover, the famous actress Charlotte Saunders Cushman (1816–1876). The scrapbook also includes pictures of Stebbins’s most famous commission, the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, whose angel is a central image in Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (1991).

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Romaine Brooks

Romaine Brooks, circa 1935

Creator: Carl Van Vechten

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Romaine Brooks with her work

Romaine Brooks with her work, ca. 1960

Romaine Brooks (1874–1970) stands in her studio among some of her best-known works of art, including the 1923 self-portrait in which she wears a hyper-masculine suit of her own design. In the background is her 1924 portrait of Lady Troubridge with her two dachshunds. Una Troubridge was the lover of Radclyffe Hall, author of the classic lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness (1928), which includes several characters based on members of the Barney/Brooks circle.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Natalie Clifford Barney letter to Eyre de Lanux

Natalie Clifford Barney letter to Eyre de Lanux, 1923 Aug.

Creator: Natalie Clifford Barney

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

My love is like the sea: returning, as the tide

My love is like the sea: returning, as the tide, 1915 May

Creator: Marjorie D. Martinet

The sculptor Beatrice Fenton (1887–1983) met the painter Marjorie Martinet (1886–1981) when they were both students at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the two nurtured a romance for more than 50 years. While Martinet’s letters to Fenton are not as direct as Fenton’s to her, Martinet gave free rein to her emotions in her poetry.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Beatrice Fenton with her sculpture Seaweed fountain

Beatrice Fenton with her sculpture Seaweed fountain, ca. 1920

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Marsden Hartley in costume

Marsden Hartley in costume, 1913 June

If Marsden Hartley (1877–1943) was considerably less comfortable than his friend Charles Demuth about appearing effeminate or gay, he was proud of how attractive this Arabian Nights outfit made him to young men at a costume ball.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Gertrude Stein and Elizabeth McCausland

Gertrude Stein and Elizabeth McCausland, 1934

The photo on the top left shows McCausland meeting the famous lesbian author Gertrude Stein (1874–1946) during the tour for Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933).

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Elizabeth McCausland at her printing press

Elizabeth McCausland at her printing press, ca. 1935

Creator: Berenice Abbott

Photographer Berenice Abbott (1898–1991) and art critic Elizabeth McCausland (1899–1965) were longtime companions and collaborators. McCausland wrote the text for Abbott’s Federal Art Project book Changing New York, a collection of 97 photographs of New York in the 1930s. McCausland, whom Abbott called “Butchy,” was a frequent subject of her camera. Here Abbott shows Butchy with the press that she used to print small limited editions of poetry and prose.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Richmond Barthe

Richmond Barthe, 1941 Apr. 4

Creator: Herman Rose

Richmond Barthé (1901–1989) was one of the leading sculptors of the Harlem Renaissance. Whereas most modern nudes focus on the female form, Barthé’s favorite subjects were beautiful young men.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Carl Van Vechten

Carl Van Vechten, 1932

Creator: Carl Van Vechten

Carl Van Vechten (1880–1964) was a novelist, critic, photographer, and key promoter of the Harlem Renaissance. Although he was married to the actress Fania Marinoff, Van Vechten was unusually open about his preference for men. In the 1940s and 1950s created an extraordinary series of photographs of naked men, as well as portraits of some of the most prominent lesbian and gay artists of his time.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Eleanor Roosevelt with Alaine Locke and Peter Pollack

Eleanor Roosevelt with Alaine Locke and Peter Pollack, 1941

Trained as a philosopher, gay art historian and critic Alain Locke (1885–1954), editor of the anthology The New Negro (1925), was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Although he sometimes clashed with Carl Van Vechten, they were both advocates for African American visual artists and early supporters of the work of Richmond Barthé.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

The Negro mother and other dramatic recitations

The Negro mother and other dramatic recitations, 1931

Creator: Langston Hughes

Prentiss Taylor (1907–1991) was a painter, illustrator, and master printmaker. He was part of a circle of gay visual artists and writers who were closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance, including the novelist, critic, and photographer Carl Van Vechten (1880–1964) and the writer Langston Hughes (1902–1967). Harlem was a cultural mecca for African Americans between the wars, and its bars and clubs were often safe havens for lesbians and gays, as well as other so-called bohemians. Prentiss Taylor created hand-colored illustrations for this edition of Langston Hughes’ The Negro Mother, which includes the poetic recitation, “The Colored Soldier.”

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Colored Soldier

Colored Soldier, ca. 1917

Creator: Langston Hughes

This is an original typescript of the “Colored Soldier” by Langston Hughes and annotated by Prentiss Taylor.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Gladys Bentley, Prentiss Taylor, and Nora Holt

Gladys Bentley, Prentiss Taylor, and Nora Holt, 1932 Feb. 27

Creator: Carl Van Vechten

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Georgia O'Keeffe posing for Una Hanbury

Georgia O'Keeffe posing for Una Hanbury, 1967

Although Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) may never have had an affair with a woman, she was unusually charismatic, and it was not unusual for both men and women to fall in love with her. She had intense relationships with Una Hanbury, Rebecca Strand, and with her assistant Maria Chabot, who helped create O’Keeffe’s beautiful home in Abiquiu, New Mexico

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, 1941

Creator: Emmy Lou Packard

Mexican painter Frida Kahlo’s (1907–1954) most famous lover was her husband, Diego Rivera, but she had many affairs with both men and women. She frequently dressed in masculine clothes and sometimes allowed her facial hair to grow, creating an androgynous erotic allure that flouted traditional gender boundaries.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Paul Cadmus, Jared French and George Tooker

Paul Cadmus, Jared French and George Tooker, 1948

Creator: George Platt Lynes

The painters Paul Cadmus (1904–1999), William Christopher (1924–1973), Jared French (1905–1988), Pavel Tchelitchew (1898–1957), and George Tooker (b. 1920), the photographer George Platt Lynes (1907–1955), and their patron—the critic, curator, and ballet impresario Lincoln Kirstein (1907–1996)—constituted a closely knit circle whose primary subject matter was the male nude. George Platt Lynes posed Cadmus, French, and Tooker as if they all worked side by side in harmony. In fact, Tooker never worked in the Greenwich Village studio that Cadmus and Lynes shared. Cadmus and French had been lovers in the 1930s, but after French married the painter Margaret Hoening, Cadmus became Tooker’s lover. Yet French continued to have relationships with other men, including Cadmus.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Lincoln Kirstein letter to George Tooker

Lincoln Kirstein letter to George Tooker, 1950 Sept. 20

Creator: Lincoln Edward Kirstein

In this letter to George Tooker, Lincoln Kirstein comments on Tooker’s most famous painting, The Subway (1950). He admires the work, but he wishes Tooker would take on less anxious subjects like the ballet.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Study for The Subway

Study for The Subway, 1949

Creator: George Tooker

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

George Tooker, Daniel Maloney, and William Christopher

George Tooker, Daniel Maloney, and William Christopher, 1951

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

William Christopher

William Christopher, ca. 1945

Creator: George Platt Lynes

The painter William Christopher (1924–1963), partner of the painter George Tooker, posed half nude for George Platt Lynes (1907–1955). Lynes was one of the leading fashion photographers of his day, but he is better known for his nude photographs of his circle of artist friends and models, and for his extraordinary pictures of ballet dancers, which later inspired the work of Robert Mapplethorpe.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Pavel Tchelitchew letter to Joseph Cornell

Pavel Tchelitchew letter to Joseph Cornell, 1941 Oct. 10

Creator: Pavel Tchelitchew

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Betty Parsons standing in the doorway of her gallery

Betty Parsons standing in the doorway of her gallery, 196-?

Painter and gallerist Betty Parsons (1900–1982) was part of an orbit of openly lesbian artists in Paris between the wars—one that included bookseller Sylvia Beach, art patron Natalie Barney, and author Gertrude Stein. However, she became discreet about her sexual orientation in New York in her role as the preeminent New York art dealer for abstract expressionism in the 1950s.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol, 1969

While Andy Warhol’s (1928–1987) paintings and experimental films overtly explored homoerotic desire, his studio (the Factory) was a magnet in the 1960s for young artists intent on testing the boundaries of acceptable behavior and sexual mores. Among Warhol’s many extracurricular activities was producing the band The Velvet Underground with Lou Reed, whose most famous hit, “Walk on the Wild Side,” became an unofficial gay anthem. In contrast to Warhol’s usual public deadpan demeanor, this spontaneous portrait is surprisingly sweet and vulnerable.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Andy Warhol letter to Russell Lynes

Andy Warhol letter to Russell Lynes, 1949

Creator: Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol began his career as a commercial artist, quickly becoming one of the most successful fashion illustrators in New York City in the 1950s. In this very early sketch and note to Russell Lynes, managing editor of Harper’s Magazine, Warhol modestly claims his “life couldn’t fill a penny postcard.” Throughout his career, Warhol would constantly reinvent the details of his early biography.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Ray Johnson, N.Y. letter to Lucy R. Lippard

Ray Johnson, N.Y. letter to Lucy R. Lippard, 1970 July 3

Creator: Ray Johnson

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Ray Johnson letter to Joseph Cornell

Ray Johnson letter to Joseph Cornell, 1966 Nov. 25

Creator: Ray Johnson

Ray Johnson (1927–1995) was a student alongside Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, in the late 1940s. His enigmatic and sometimes homoerotic collages frequently took the form of mail art—clippings, poems, doctored advertisements, and elaborate puns—that he sent to people in the art world, often with the request to change them and send them on to other colleagues.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

John Button letter to Gerald Langston Fabian

John Button letter to Gerald Langston Fabian, 1959 July 15

Creator: John Button

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

John Button letter to Gerald Langston Fabian

John Button letter to Gerald Langston Fabian, 29 June 1960

Creator: John Button

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

David Hockney painting the interior of André Emmerich's pool

David Hockney painting the interior of André Emmerich's pool, 1986 May

Creator: Andre Emmerich

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

David Hockney in his studio

David Hockney in his studio, 1984 May

Creator: Andre Emmerich

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

David Hockney letter to William Theo Brown

David Hockney letter to William Theo Brown, 1972 Apr. 12

Creator: David Hockney

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Bill Brown and Paul Wonner

Bill Brown and Paul Wonner, 2002

The San Francisco Bay Area figurative painters William Theo Brown (b. 1919) and Paul Wonner (1920–2008) met in art school and became lifetime companions, living openly as a gay couple since the 1950s. Here they pose next to a Wonner self-portrait of the artist painting a naked male model.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Woman to woman exhibition poster

Woman to woman exhibition poster, 1975

Creator: Sheila Levant de Bretteville

Sheila Levrant de Bretteville (b. 1940), who currently heads the Yale University Art School’s Graphic Design Department, designed some of the most important of the Woman’s Building’s posters, brochures, and invitations. She was affectionately known as “Pinkie” for the way her designs reclaimed the color pink for feminism.

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Lenore Tawney postcard to Maryette Charlton

Lenore Tawney postcard to Maryette Charlton, 1977 Sept.

Creator: Lenore Tawney

Fiber artist Lenore Tawney (1907–2007) sent this flirtatious collage about kissing—centering on the lovemaking of two pandas—to the married filmmaker Maryette Charlton. She may have been jokingly referring to Charlton’s heterosexuality by incorporating a Gertrude Stein quote, “a wife has a cow a Love Story.”

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

Witnesses: against our vanishing

Witnesses: against our vanishing, 1989

Creator: Nan Goldin

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Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence at the Archives of American Art

John Sloan painting

John Sloan painting, 1939

Creator: Ernest Knee

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