Sylvia Sleigh is best known for her paintings of the male nude. While we often think of art history objectifying women, Sleigh showed us the true meaning of a female gaze, glorifying the male anatomy in works that unashamedly gawp at the unclothed masculine physique.
Born in Wales, Great Britain, Sleigh spent the majority of her life in New York City where, inspired by feminist principles, she began replacing scenes normally associated with nude women with nude men instead. While her work is highly stylised, it is often viewed as erotic, and she had a number of male muses.
Here are the five facts you need to known about this pioneer of twentieth-century art:
She was a founding member of an all-women’s gallery
In 1973 SOHO 20 Gallery was founded by a group of women artists, and Sleigh went on to paint a number of portraits of women artists. Throughout her life she acquired works of art by over 100 women artists, which were often displayed at the gallery.
Her husband was one of her muses
Sleigh’s husband Lawrence Alloway – formerly a curator at the Guggenheim – appears in over 30 of Sleigh’s paintings.
She had a thing for the past
Sleigh is well known for “re-inventing” historical paintings from the art historical cannon, replacing nude women with nude men. Taking inspiration from Ingres, Manet and Titian, she put men into scenes that were previously viewed as feminine.
One of her paintings was once removed from the Bronx Museum of the Arts
In 1975 a portrait of Paul Rosano was ordered to be taken down because of scope of detail on the male nude. The work was on display in an exhibition of contemporary art made by women called The Year of the Women. When interviewed about it in the New York Times, Sleigh argued that the judge probably would not have objected if the painting depicted a female nude. (And we agree)
She painted women too
Sleigh also made portraits of women, both clothed and nude, showing appreciation for all bodies regardless of gender.
Words by Lizzy Vartanian
Images via @gverbaan, @j.c.connelly, @kapfohl, @undertheflowermoon, @jess___eff