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  • Sylvia Sleigh

Paul Rosano in Jacobsen Chair

1974
Oil on canvas
51.97 inch x 55.91 inch x 1.18 inch
Schenkung Estate of Sylvia Sleigh Alloway/donation by Estate of Sylvia Sleigh Alloway 2016
Inventory number: MB 93/0

A naked young man is sitting relaxed in a red armchair. He looks somewhat bored or indifferent to the fact that his portrait is being painted. Here Sylvia Sleigh painted one of her favorite models, Paul Rosano, a thin dark-haired man about whom we know nothing, although he often appears in her paintings. In this work, he has settled down in one her red “egg chairs.” It seems that both the painter and her model quite like this chair by Danish designer Arne Jacobsen, as it appears in a large number of Sylvia Sleigh’s portraits and self-portraits.
This 1974 portrait is one of a series of male and female nudes that the New York artist painted. She cited from famous female nudes by male artists such as Titian, Giorgione, Ingres, and Manet. But she painted naked men instead of naked women—and of course now it was a woman and not a man who was doing the painting. The result is gender-reversed versions of classic works from art history. But Sylvia Sleigh did not reduce her female or her male models to the function of muse or mistress. Her relations with them seems very amicable and relaxed, with no stereotypes from tradition in which the naked person is presented as available to the artist’s voyeuristic gaze. Sleigh said: “I wanted to give my perspective, portraying both sexes with dignity and humanism,” and “it was very necessary to do this because women had often been painted as objects of desire in humiliating poses. I don’t mind the ‘desire’ part, it’s the ‘object’ that’s not very nice.”

Sylvia Sleigh was also an active feminist in realms beyond her own art. In 1972 she cofounded A.I.R. Gallery, a gallery run by women for women, providing space for women artists in New York to present their work professionally. Then as today, the commercial galleries were dominated by male artists.