Saturday, February 26, 2011

Raphael and La Fornarina

La fornarina by Raphael, c. 1518-1519

The painting above was found in Raphael's studio at the time of his death. The painting is known as La fornarina(the bakeress) and the woman in the painting is thought to be Raphael's roman mistress, Margherita Luti, the daughter of a baker from Seina.

La velata by Raphael, 1514-1515

The same woman posed for another portrait known as La velata or La donna velata(the veiled woman) painted about three or four years earlier. She wears the same pearl bauble in her hair in both portraits. The name Margherita means "pearl" in Italian. A contemporary account refers to the woman in the La velata portrait as "the woman Raphael loved until he died". Margherita Luti is thought to have been the model for both of these portraits and many of Raphael's other works.

Among the other works Margherita Luti is thought to have modeled for are several Madonnas including the Madonna della Seggiola (known as Madonna of the Chair), painted around the same time as the La velata portrait.

In the La fornarina portrait she is wearing a wedding ring and an armband on which is written the name Raphael of Urbino. Myrtle branches, symbolic of love and marriage, fill the background. These details were discovered recently when a restoration of the portrait revealed that these symbols had been painted over, apparently by Raphael's assistants after his death.

Madonna della Seggiola by Raphael, c. 1514

According to Giorgio Vasari, in his Life of Raphael, Raphael was so in love with his mistress that he could not focus on his painting if separated from her. She accompanied him everywhere and even had to be smuggled in to live with him in secret so that he could complete his frescoes at the Villa Farnesina, the pleasure palace of his wealthy friend, the Sienese banker, Agostino Chigi. In some versions of the legend Raphael's mistress is also smuggled into the Vatican to live with him there so that he can finish his frescoes for Pope Leo X. And thus the legend of Raphael the sex maniac was born.

Raphael was a very amorous man who was fond of women, and he was always quick to serve them. This was the reason why, as he continued to pursue his carnal delights, he was treated with too much consideration and asqcuiescence by his friends. When his dear friend Agostino Chigi commissioned him to paint the first loggia in his palace, Raphael could not really put his mind to his work because of his love for one of his mistresses; Agostino became so desperate over this that, through his own efforts and with the assistance of others, he worked things out in such a way that he finally managed to bring this woman of Raphael's to come and stay with him on a constant basis in the section of the house where Raphael was working, and that was the reason why the work came to be finished.*

A marriage to a mere peasant girl, the daughter of a baker, would have seriously damaged Raphael's reputation with the Roman and Florentine aristocracy, quite probably ending his career as a painter.

Self Portrait by Raphael, 1506

Around the time the La velata portrait was painted, Raphael was being pressured by the Cardinal of Bibbiena to marry one of his nieces, a woman named Maria Bibbiena. Raphael didn't refuse the Cardinal, but put off the matter, saying he wanted to wait three or four years before marrying. After the four years had passed, Raphael agreed to the marriage, but he kept putting off the wedding with excuses.

The master lived in the strictest intimacy with Bernardo Divizio, Cardinal of Bibbiena, who had for many years importuned him to take a wife of his selection, nor had Raphael directly refused compliance with the wishes of the Cardinal, but had put the matter off, by saying that he would wait some three or four years longer. The term which he had thus set approached before Raphael had thought of it, when he was reminded by the Cardinal of his promise, and being as he ever was just and upright, he would not depart from his word, and therelore accepted a nieceof the Cardinal himself for his wife. But as this engagement was nevertheless a very heavy restraint to him, he put off the marriage from time to time, insomuch that several months passed and the ceremony had not yet taken place.*
Finally Maria Bibbiena died from an illness and the wedding never took place.

The frescoes Raphael painted at the Villa Farnesina are filled with depictions of love and marriage suggesting that Raphael's friend Agostino Chigi may have helped arrange a secret marriage around the time he smuggled Margherita into the Villa to reunite his lovelorn friend with his beloved so that he could finish his frescoes.
The painter meanwhile did not abandon the light attachment by which he was enchained, and one day on returning to his house from one of these secret visits, he was seized with a violent fever, which being mistaken for a cold, the physicians inconsiderately caused him to be bled, whereby he found himself exhausted, when he had rather required to be strengthened. Thereupon he made his will, and, as a good Christian, he sent the object of his attachment from the house, but left her a sufficient provision wherewith she might live in decency.*
Vasari takes great pains to discredit Raphael's relationship with Margherita Luti, never referring to Margherita by name, but as the "mistress", or the object of a "light attachment". But even Vasari admits that Raphael could not focus on his painting when seperated from her, and that although he sent her away shortly before his death, he made financial provisions for her future.

Vasari attributes Raphael's death to overindulgence in sex with his mistress, based on the medieval theory that having too much sex could disturb the humours of the body. Vasari's Life of Raphael helped create the legend of Raphael's death. In some versions of the legend, Raphael's mistress is even blamed for causing his early death.

After Raphael's death, his assistants found the La fornarina portrait hanging in his studio, and apparently soon thereafter painted over the nuptial symbolism in the painting to preserve the reputation of their beloved master and prevent a scandal that would put an end to their own work at the Vatican and consequently bankrupt them. The symbolism in the painting would have been immediately obvious to anyone at the time to mean "this is my wife whom I love".

Vasari contributed to the coverup in his Life of Raphael which reads like the life of a saint. Vasari's Lives of the Painters is a veritable hagiography of Rennaissance Art.

Raphael and La Fornarina by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1814

After reading between the lines of Vasari's Life of Raphael and seeing the portraits many artists have become obsessed with the intrigueing and romantic legend of Raphael and La Fornarina.

The story of Raphael's legendary love for his model inspired Ingres to paint this portrait around 1814 depicting Margherita Luti sitting on Raphael's lap as he gazes Pygmalion like at the La fornarina portrait in progress, having apparently taken a break from his work to make love to his beautiful model. In the background a drawn back curtain reveals a view of the Vatican through the window and behind the easel a hand is holding a copy of Vasari's Life of Raphael. Leaning against the wall in the back is the Madonna della Seggiola. The man with the book behind the easel is Ingres reading between the lines.

Etching by Pablo Picasso, 1968

In 1968, at the age of 87, Pablo Picasso created his 357 series of twenty five pornographic etchings inspired by the legend of Raphael and La Fornarina. In the final etching in the series, Raphael is depicted having sexual intercourse with La Fornarina while Michelangelo watches, hiding under the bed.

Thanks to the research of Italian art historian Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz and his associates the La fornarina portrait has now been restored revealing the truth about their relationship. Curuz and his associates have also uncovered documents suggesting that Raphael and Margherita Luti were indeed secretly married and that four months after Raphael's death the "widow" Margherita entered a convent in Rome.

We owe a debt to Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz and his associates for finally bringing the true story of Raphael and Margherita Luti to light.

- David


The Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari (translated by Julia Conway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella), Oxford, 2008 *

Was Raphael Married? by Melissa Snell, 2005

Margherita as La fornarina by Lavalle Linn, 2009

Raphael, the artist killed by too much sex? by Jonathan Jones, 2009

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Balzac and Picasso

Balzac, etching, 1952, Pablo Picasso

In 1927 Picasso was commissioned to do a series of illustrations for a novella by Balzac called The Unknown Masterpiece or The Hidden Masterpiece(Le Chef-d’Ĺ“uvre inconnu ). After reading the novella Picasso became obsessed with this uncanny tale of a painter's obsession to create a masterpiece.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso, 1937

Picasso identified with the painter Frenhofer and became obsessed with The Unknown Masterpiece. In 1934 he moved into a house that he and his friends believed was the actual setting of Balzac's story. There he painted his most famous work, Guernica, in 1937. Some art historians have suggested he conceived Guernica as his own unknown masterpiece.

Picasso would later claim he was haunted by Balzac. Themes from Balzac's story appear in many of Picasso's works over the years. The etching above is one of a long series of Balzac portraits done by Picasso in 1952.

A drawing from 1934 was discovered in a junk shop in 1972. The 1934 drawing may offer a key to symbolism in many of Picasso's paintings. Contraversy regarding interpretations of the drawings symbolism and it's authenticity has been ongoing for years. The 1934 drawing has become known as Picasso's Unknown Masterpiece.

1934 drawing

Art historian Mark Harris has written a brilliant comprehensive analysis of the symbolism in Picasso's Unknown Masterpiece. Visit his website to read all about it and visit the Picasso Conspiracy website for up to date information on the ungoing battle to authenticate Picasso's Unknown Masterpiece.

The Balzac Conspiracy:

The Mark Harris Picasso site:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mikhail Nesterov and the birth of Russian Symbolism

The Vision of the Youth Bartholomew 1890

This beautiful painting by Mikhail Nesterov, The Visitation, also called The Vision of the Youth Bartholomew (1890), is said to mark the birth of the Russian Symbolist movement. The fantastic detail and charming enigmatic quality of the work is really extraordinary.

Nesterov intended to revive russian religious art. The influence of the French Symbolists on his work was a dramatic departure from both traditional russian icon painting and the naturalistic realism that had dominated russian secular art for decades.

Hermit 1889

Nesterov traveled to remote monastaries and hermitages in order to depict the aesthetic life of religious hermits, a traditional religious life unchanged since the middle ages.

Visiting a Sorcerer: Love Drink Is Needed 1888

He also painted scenes from russian folk tales and russian history. These paintings all have the same mystical enigmatic quality as his religious subjects.

Death of Prince Alexander Nevsky 1900

After the death of his wife, the subject of Nesterov's work changed from depictions of religious and historical scenes to portraits depicting an emotional state. Nesterov himself said the after the loss of his wife he "became a great painter". This beautiful portrait of his daughter Olga is a good example of the emotional quality of his later work.

Portrait of Olga Nesterova 1915

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mikhail Vrubel: The Head of the Demon

Self Portrait 1904-05

Mikhail Vrubel is generally considered the greatest of the Russian Symbolist painters. The departure from realistic naturalism in russian painting that had begun with Mikhail Nesterov's enigmatic painting The Visitation realized it's full expression in the work of Vrubel. His unique style and great talent are evident in this fantastic self portrait in pencil from 1904-1905.

In 1890, Vrubel painted a series of black and white watercolour illustrations for Mikhail Lermontov's romantic poem The Demon. Later that year Vrubel exhibited a large oil painting called The Seated Demon in Moscow. The painting caused a great deal of controversy. At first the work was condemned by conservative critics. Some even called it ugly. But later art patron Savva Mamontov praised Vrubel's genius and commissioned him do some paintings for his private opera house. The scandal made Vrubel famous.

I have posted The Seated Demon and the watercolour illustrations here with some excerpts from Mikhail Lermontov's The Demon.

The Seated Demon 1890

His way above the sinful earth
The melancholy Demon winged
And memories of happier days
About his exiled spirit thronged;
Of days when in the halls of light
He shone among the angels bright;
When comets in their headlong flight
Would joy to pay respect to him
As, chaste among the cherubim,
Among th' eternal nebulae
With eager mind and quick surmise
He'd trace their caravanserai
Through the far spaces of the skies;
When he had known both faith and love,
The happy firstling of creation!
When neither doubt nor dark damnation
Had whelmed him with the bitterness
Of fruitless exile year by year,
And when so much, so much...but this
Was more than memory could bear.

Head of Demon 1890-91

Outcast long since, he wandered lone,
Having no place to call his own,
Through the dull desert of the world
While age on age about him swirled,
Minute on minute - all the same.
Prince of this world - which he held cheap -
He scattered tares among the wheat....
A joyless task without remission,
Void of excitement, opposition -
Evil itself to him seemed tame.

Tamara Dancing 1890-91

So by the midnight star I swear
By blazing East and beaming West
No Shah of Persia knew her peer
No King on earth was ever blessed
To kiss an eye so full and fine.
The harem's sparkling fountain never
Showered such a form with dewy pearls!
Nor had mortal fingers ever
Caressed a forehead so divine
To loose such splendid curls;
Indeed, since Eve was first undone
And man from Eden forth must fare
No beauty such as this, I swear,
Had bloomed beneath the Southern sun.

The Demon did see.... For one second
It seemed to him that heaven beckoned
To make his arid soul resound
With glorious, grace-bestowing sound -
And once again his thought embraced
The sacrosanct significance
Of Goodness, Beauty and of Love!
And, strangely moved, his memory traced
The joys that he had known above
A chain of long magnificence
Before him link on link unfolding
As though he watched the headlong flight
Of star on star shoot through the night....

The Rider 1890-91

Swift as a stag still runs the horse
Snorting as though he held his course
In some fierce charge, now plunging on
Now pulling up as though to harken
His nostrils flared to sniff the wind:
Then leaps up and comes ringing down
On all four hooves, sets sparking
The stones and, in his mad career,
His tangled mane streams out behind.
A silent rider he does bear
Who lurches forward now and then
To rest his head in that wild mane.
The reins lie slack in useless hands,
The feet are deep-thrust in the stirrups,
And on his saddle-cloth the bands
Of blood are broadening as they gallop
Ah gallant steed, your wounded master
You bore from battle swift as light
The ill-starred bullet sped yet faster
And overtook him in the night!

Tamara and Demon 1890-91

I am he to whom you barkened
In the stillness of the night,
He whose thought your mind has darkened,
He whose sadness you have felt,
Whose image haunts your waking sight,
Whose name the end of hope has spelt
To every soul with whom I treat.
I am he no man may love,
A scourge to all my mortal slaves,
The ill in nature. Enemy
To Heaven and all the powers above.
Lord of knowledge, liberty.
And, as you see, I'm at your feet.
Moved beyond all that I have known
I would speak softly in your ears
Quiet prayers of love. Tell of my pain,
My first on earth, and my first tears.
Ah hear me out, for pity's sake!
One word from you would quite restore me.
Robed in the love of your pure heart
I might again resume my part
In the angelic ranks and take
An aspect new and a new glory.
Ah, hear me, hear me I implore you,
I am your slave and I adore you!
No sooner did I see you than
I felt a sudden, veiled revulsion
For immortality and power;
And I was drawn by strange compulsion
To envy the frail joys of man;
Life without you became a torment
To be apart from you - a horror.
A living ray of warmth, a portent
Of fair renewal touched my heart
And set the cold blood coursing. Sorrow
Beneath the scar stirred like a serpent
Awakening an ancient pain.
For, tell me, without you what gain
Is there in my infinity?
Endless dominion, majesty?
Loud, empty words - a spacious fane
Devoid of all divinity!

Tamara Lying in State 1890-91

My life is wondrous full and new,
The crown of thorns I proudly cast
With my own hands from off my brow.
All that I have been shattered lies:
My heaven and hell are in your eyes.
I love you with a passion vast.
You cannot love as I love you,
With all the ecstasy and power
Of deathless thought and dreams sublime.
Since the beginning of all time
Your image on the eternal air
Has gone before me - till this hour.
My soul has long been troubled by
The sweet sounds of the name you bear;
And in my days of blessedness
You were my only lack.

And most gently he
Did touch his burning lips to hers;
Full of seduction were the words
In which he soothed her soft repining;
His mighty gaze held fast her eyes
And burnt her.- In the cloistered shade
He glinted poised above her, shining.
Inevitable as a blade.
The evil spirit overcomes her.
His kiss, like deadly poison, numbs her
And stills the heart within her breast.
One terrified and anguished cry
Aroused the silent night from rest.
It was a last, a desperate plea
Yet full of love, live agony,
Hopeless farewell, finality...
To her young life a last good-bye.

Demon and Angel with Tamara's Soul 1890-91

Circled by the strong arms which bore her,
Tamara's sinful soul shrank close
To the protecting angel's side
Seeking in prayer her fear to hide.
Now, once again, he stood before her
But - Heavens! Who would know him now?
His gaze so brooding and morose
So venomous with hate eternal...
It seemed a death-like cold infernal
Lay on that frozen face and brow.
"Spirit of darkness, get thee gone!"
Heaven's messenger then made reply:
"The victory has been yours for long
Enough, and now the end is nigh.
Just is the judgement of the Lord!
The days of trial are over, past:
With the frail flesh, know. she has cast
Off all the claims of evil too!
For long now we have waited for her:
Her soul was of those very few
Who at the price of martyr's pain
Endured one moment long attain
To tasting joy beyond compare.
The Maker spun its living thread
Out of the finest, purest air
Not for the dull world was she made
No more that it was made for her.
She has redeemed at cruel price
Her wavering faith in powers above.
She suffered, loved, laid down her life -
And Heaven opened to her love!"

The angel bent his gaze severe
Upon the Tempter, eye to eye,
Then joyful soared ... to disappear
Into the boundless, shining sky.
The Demon watched the heating wings
Fading triumphantly from sight
And cursed his dreams of better things,
Doomed to defeat, venting his spite
And arrogance in that great curse....
Alone in all the universe,
Abandoned, without love or hope!...

Like Lermontov's Demon, Vrubel had his Tamara as well. In 1896, he fell in love with the famous opera singer Nadezhda Zabela and they were married. She sang the parts of the Snowbird, the Swan Princess, and the Princess Volkhova in Rimsky-Korsakov's opera's. Vrubel designed stage sets and beautiful costumes for her. She was his fairy tale princess. He painted this beautiful portrait of her as the Swan Princess during this happy period.

Swan Princess 1900

Sadly, Vrubel's fate would be as tragic as that of Lermontov's Demon. In 1901, he suffered a nervous breakdown at an exhibition of the painting Demon Downcast, and was taken to a mental clinic where he was hospitalized. His mental illness was caused in part by syphilis. Eventually he became completely blind due to the disease.

Demon Downcast 1902

Vrubel continued to create some of his greatest work for a few years, until his vision loss and mental illness became too severe. This incredible painting called The Perl is one of his later works.

The Perl 1904

From the same period, this simple still life of a fresh cut rose in a glass of water is a wonderful example of the genius of Vrubel's unique technique and style.

The Rose 1904

This is another portrait of Nadezhda Zebela-Vrubel from this later period.

Portrait of Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel 1904

This unfinished portrait of the poet and novelist Valery Briusov, a close friend of Vrubel's, is the last large work he attempted before he gave up painting in 1906 due to his increasing loss of vision and mental illness. He died four years later.

Portrait of Valery Briusov 1906

Read the entire text of Mikhail Lermontov's The Demon at

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The tragic life of Simeon Solomon

A generation before Oscar Wilde's famous trial and imprisonment, another brilliant career was tragically cut short by the homophobia and intolerance of victorian english society.

On February 11th, 1873, two men were arrested for attempted sodomy in a public lavatory in Stratford Place Mews, off Oxford Street, in London. One of the men was Simeon Solomon, a promising young artist, then 33 years old, whose work had been exhibited at the Royal Academy. The other man was a 60 year old stableman named George Roberts. Both men were sentenced to 18 month's hard labor, the same sentence that destroyed Oscar Wilde 20 years later. Simeon Solomon served only 2 weeks of his sentence before being released on bail. Thanks to the help of Meyer Solomon, a wealthy cousin, his sentence was reduced to police supervision and a £100 fine a month later. George Roberts served his entire 18 month sentence.

Although he was released from jail, Solomon was ostracized by proper english society and his promising career abruptly ended, almost as if he had died. He fled to France after his release, but in 1874 he was arrested again in Paris and sentenced to 3 months in prison.

Simeon Solomon was thus thrust into obscurity just as he was achieving fame as an artist.

Love In Autumn 1866

Born on October 9th, 1840, he was the youngest of eight children from a respectable middle class Jewish family. His father was a prominent east end merchant named Michael Meyer Solomon. His mother, Catherine Levy Solomon, was an artist and nurtured an interest in the arts in her children. An older Brother, Abraham (1823-1862), and an older sister, Rebecca (1832-1886), were also artists.

Young Simeon showed precocious talent and his brother Abraham began teaching him painting around 1850. In 1852 he entered Carey's Art Academy. His sister Rebecca had her first exhibition at the Royal Academy the same year. Four years later Simeon would have his own exhibition at the Royal Academy.

Bacchus 1867

His early works are mostly religious scenes or depictions of Orthodox Jewish rituals. Solomon begins to show subtle traces of his sexuality in some of these works.

As a student Solomon was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters. The work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in particular was a strong influence on the young student. Around 1858, Solomon met Rossetti, who introduced him to other members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, such as the painter Edward Burne-Jones, the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, and the critic Walter Pater.

Love Dreaming By The Sea 1871

Solomon was embraced by these prophets of aestheticism and became a disciple of art for art's sake. He moved out of his brother's studio around this time and the theme of his work shifted from religious subjects to classical mythology. Solomon's expression of his sexuality in his work increases dramatically at this stage. Sexually ambiguous androgenous youths, showing the influence of Burne-Jones, start to fill his canvases, expressing a homosexual aesthetic more openly and bravely than any artist had ever dared before. His work receives some harsh reviews, but is championed by Swinburne, Pater, and others within the Aesthetic Movement leading to more exhibitions of his work.

In the late 1860's, Solomon begins traveling to Italy to study classical painting. In 1867 he is accompanied on one of these trips by his lover, Oscar Browning, who would later become headmaster of Eton. The couple visit Rome and Genoa again in 1870, but their second trip is cut short, probably due to legal problems resulting from their same sex relationship. On their return to England the relationship apparently ends. Solomon starts to drink heavily around this time.

An Angel aka Love 1887

While in Italy, Solomon began composing a poem in defense of same sex love called A Vision of Love Revealed In Sleep. It was completed and published after his return to England. Imagery in the poem corresponds to iconography in many of Solomon's works in which he depicts love as an angelic young man.

Although praised by critic John Addington Symonds, the poem was otherwise universally condemned and was never republished. However Solomon continued to paint and exhibit and his fame grew until the tragic events of 1873-74 abruptly ended his public career.

Love And Lust date unknown

After his downfall, Solomon was abandoned by most of his friends and patrons. A loyal few attempted to continue their friendship with him, including Walter Pater and his cousin, Meyer, who gave him some commissions during this period. Little is known about his life after the arrests.

In 1885, Solomon moved into the St. Giles Workhouse, a sort of homeless shelter, where he continued to work and live for the last 20 years of his life. He was reduced to begging and selling matchsticks on the street. Unable to afford paint and canvas, he usually worked with pastels and charcoal on salvaged scraps of cardboard and paper. Yet he created some of his most beautiful work in this late period.

Angel Boy 1895

On August 14th, 1905, Simeon Solomon collapsed and died at the St. Giles Workhouse. The cause of death was listed as heart failure due to complications of bronchitus and alcoholism. He was buried in Willesden Jewish Cemetery.

Almost immediately after his death, Solomon's work began to receive recognition for the first time in decades. There were two memorial exhibitions of his work in 1906, one at the Royal Academy and one at the Baillie Gallery. In 1908 Julia Ellworth Ford wrote a book about him entitled Simeon Solomon: An Appreciation. However Solomon was soon forgotten again and faded into obscurity until research in gender studies renewed interest in his work in the 1990's, nearly a century later.

Untitled 1905

An online Simeon Solomon Research Archive has been created by art historian Roberto C. Ferrari as a repository of information about the artist. You will find it on my links of interest list.

Also a wonderful book called Love Revealed: Simeon Solomon And The Pre-Raphaelites has recently been published.

The photograph of Simeon Solomon is by David Wilkies c.1870.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Alfred Kubin: Drawings 1897-1909

An exhibition of Alfred Kubin's drawings 1897 - 1909 will be held by the Neue Galerie in NYC, September 25th, 2008 - January 26th, 2009. It will be the first exhibition of Kubin's graphic work in North America. A fantastic illustrated catalogue is available for purchase.

Here are a few samples from the exhibit. First, The Last King 1902. This was chosen as the front cover of the catalogue. Next, brace yourself for Self-Observation 1901-2, one of those indelible disturbing grotesques of Kubin's that may cause irreversible psychic trauma, forever etched unto your mind's eye. Below you will find Dying 1899. A nice example of the melancholia and macabre weirdness that infects all of Kubin's work like a morose virus.

The Last King 1902

Self-Observation 1901-2

Dying 1899

In addition to the Neue Gallery exhibition, the Fine Arts Museum Of San Francisco has a large collection of Kubins work posted for online perusal. Both websites are on my Links Of Interest list.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Homoeroticism in the art of John Singer Sargent

Was John Singer Sargent a homosexual? It has been suggested by art historian Trevor J. Fairbrother that the gentle eroticism of Sargent's male nudes is evidence of his homosexual tendencies.

This beautiful portrait of the 28 year old dandy W. Graham Robertson from 1894 has been much discussed as an example of an homoerotic aesthetic in Sargent's portraits of elegant young gentlemen.

Sargent was much sought after as a portrait painter among the elite of society because he made men look dashing and women look beautiful. The sensual beauty of his portraits of both men and women caused some comment. Some even called his portraits indecent.

Because of it's depiction of an apparently sexually liberated woman in a low cut gown, his portrait of New Orleans socialite Madame Pierre Gautreau caused quite a scandal in 1884. Sargent later changed the title to Portrait of Madame X to protect the models reputation and fled to England.

While in exile abroad Sargent associated with such flambouyant homosexuals as the great Oscar Wilde and the famous dandy Robert de Montesquiou.

By all accounts a quietly reserved and intensely private man, Sargent is said to have had close friendships with men and flirtations with women but no great relationships to speak of. His letters and other personal papers were destroyed by his family after his death. Therefore the only evidence we have about his sexuality is his work itself.

These sketches of male nudes were never exibited during Sargent's lifetime. They provide compelling evidence for Mr. Fairbrother's hypothesis, which I must say I am inclined to agree with.

The erotic quality of Sargent's male nudes is undeniable. Much of this work was never shown, although Sargent's murals in public buildings often feature a few writhing naked men.

Painted near the end of his life, this masterpiece called Nude Study Of Thomas E. McKeller, was found in Sargent's studio at the time of his death. It's a nude portrait of one of his favorite models and is one of the most compelling examples of homoeroticism in all of his work.

I can't help wondering why his family destroyed all his letters and personal papers after his death.