Sylvia Sleigh

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Sylvia Sleigh
Born (1916-05-08)8 May 1916
Llandudno, Gwynedd, Wales
Died 24 October 2010(2010-10-24) (aged 94)
New York, NY
Nationality Welsh-American
Known for Painting
The Turkish Bath (1973)

Sylvia Sleigh (Llandudno, Gwynedd, Wales, 8 May 1916—24 October 2010, New York, NY) was a Welsh-born naturalised American realist painter.[1]

She married her first husband, Michael Greenwood, in 1941 and moved back to London to paint.[2] After studying at the Brighton School of Art, she had her first solo exhibition in 1953 at the Kensington Art Gallery. Sleigh met her second husband, Lawrence Alloway, a curator and art critic, while taking evening classes at the University of London and married him before moving to the United States in 1961.[3][4] The following year, Alloway became a curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.[4][5]

Sleigh taught for some time at the State University of Stony Brook and at the New School for Social Research.[6] Around 1970, from feminist principles, she painted a series of works reversing stereotypical artistic themes by featuring nude men in poses that were traditionally associated with women, like the reclining Venus or odalisque.[7] Some directly alluded to existing works, such as her gender-reversed version of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres's The Turkish Bath (1973), which depicts a group of art critics, including her husband Lawrence Alloway (reclining at the lower right).[8] Philip Golub Reclining (1971) similarly appropriates the pose of the Rokeby Venus by Diego Velázquez.[9] This work also presents a reversal of the male-artist/female-muse pattern typical of the Western canon and is reflective of research into the position of women throughout the history of art as model, mistress, and muse, but rarely as artist−genius.[10] For example, throughout her career, she painted over thirty works that feature her husband as her subject. While somewhat idealized, Sleigh's figures remain highly individualized.[11]

In her male nudes, her subject "is used as a vehicle to express erotic feelings, just as male artists have always used the female nude"[12] As seen in her works, such as Paul Rosano reclining (1974) and Imperial Nude, (1975), she portrays her male subjecs in typical female poses in order to comment of past bias where male artist have historically depicted sexualized female nudes.

Other works equalize the roles of men and women, such as Concert Champetre (1976), in which all the figures are nude, unlike its similarly composed namesake by Titian (earlier credited to Giorgione), in which only the women are unclothed. As Sleigh explained, "I feel that my paintings stress the equality of men and women (women and men). To me, women were often portrayed as sex objects in humiliating poses. I wanted to give my perspective. I liked to portray both man and woman as intelligent and thoughtful people with dignity and humanism that emphasized love and joy."[13] Likewise, her painting of Lilith (1976), created as a component of The Sister Chapel, a collaborative installation that premiered in 1978, depicts the superimposed bodies of a man and woman to emphasize the fundamental similarities between the two genders.[14]

Sleigh was a founding member of the all-women, artist-run SOHO 20 Gallery (est. 1973) and later joined A.I.R. Gallery (est. 1972). She painted group portraits of both organizations.[15] Between 1976 and 2007, Sleigh painted a series of 36-inch portraits which feature women artists and writers, including Helène Aylon, Catharine R. Stimpson, Howardena Pindell, Selina Trieff, and Vernita Nemec.[16][17]

In a 2007 interview with Brian Sherwin, Sleigh was asked if gender equality issues in the mainstream art world, and the world in general, had changed for the better. She answered, "I do think things have improved for women in general there are many more women in government, in law and corporate jobs, but it's very difficult in the art world for women to find a gallery." According to Sleigh, there is still more that needs to be done in order for men and women to be treated as equals in the art world.[18]

During the last two decades of her life, Sleigh purchased or negotiated trades of over 100 works of art by other women and exhibited her growing collection at SOHO 20 Gallery in 1999.[17] These included paintings, sculptures, and prints by Cecile Abish, Dotty Attie, Helène Aylon, Blythe Bohnen, Louise Bourgeois, Ann Chernow, Rosalyn Drexler, Martha Edelheit, Audrey Flack, Shirley Gorelick, Nancy Grossman, Pegeen Guggenheim, Nancy Holt, Lila Katzen, Diana Kurz, Marion Lerner-Levine, Vernita Nemec, Betty Parsons, Ce Roser, Susan Sills, Michelle Stuart, Selina Trieff, Audrey Ushenko, and many others. In 2011, the Sylvia Sleigh Collection was donated to the Rowan University Art Gallery and forms the core of its permanent collection.[19] She has held solo exhibitions at Fordham University and Ohio State University.[20]

In 1982, she received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.[21] Northwestern University awarded her the Edith Kreeger Wolf Distinguished Professorhsip.[22] The Women's Caucus for Art posthumously honored Sleigh in 2011 as a recipient of the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award.[16]


  1. ^ New York Times obituary
  2. ^ Grimes, William (2010-10-25). "Sylvia Sleigh, Provocative Portraitist and Feminist Artist, Dies at 94". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  3. ^ "Sylvia Sleigh, Lawrence Alloway, and The Turkish Bath | Smart Museum of Art". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  4. ^ a b "An Unnerving Romanticism:" The Art of Sylvia Sleigh and Lawrence Alloway (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Art Alliance, 2001).
  5. ^ "Dictionary of Art Historians". Alloway, Lawrence. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Sylvia Sleigh - Artist, Fine Art Prices, Auction Records for Sylvia Sleigh". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  7. ^ Grimes, William. "Sylvia Sleigh, Provocative Portraitist and Feminist Artist, Dies at 94". New York Times. Retrieved 28 April 2016. 
  8. ^ Nude awakening, Frances Borzello, The Guardian, November 2, 2002
  9. ^ Penny Dunford, A Biographical Dictionary of Women Artists in Europe and America Since 1850 (Harvester Wheatsheaf/Prentice-Hall, 1990).
  10. ^ Frances Borzello, Seeing Ourselves: Women's Self-Portraiture, 1998.
  11. ^ Amy Ingrid Schlegel, "A Tribute to Sylvia Sleigh (1916–2010)," Obituaries, College Art Association
  12. ^ Semmel, Joan (1980). "Sexual Imagery in Women's Art". Woman's Art Journal. 1 (1): 4. doi:10.2307/1358010. 
  13. ^ Love and joy, official website
  14. ^ Andrew D. Hottle, The Art of the Sister Chapel: Exemplary Women, Visionary Creators, and Feminist Collaboration (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2014), 160.
  15. ^ Moyer, Carrie (February 2010). "Sylvia Sleigh". The Brooklyn Rail. 
  16. ^ a b Andrew D. Hottle, "Sylvia Sleigh," in Women's Caucus for Art: Honor Awards for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts, 2011 (Women's Caucus for Art, 2011), 26. Retrieved 09/02/2014.
  17. ^ a b Parallel Visions: Selections from the Sylvia Sleigh Collection of Women Artists (New York: SOHO20 Gallery, 1999).
  18. ^ "Art Space Talk: Sylvia Sleigh", Myartspace, 24 November 2007. Retrieved 16 May 2008.
  19. ^ Andrew D. Hottle, "Sylvia Sleigh: Artist and Collector," in Groundbreaking: The Women of the Sylvia Sleigh Collection (Glassboro, NJ: Rowan University Art Gallery, 2011). Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  20. ^ "Sylvia Sleigh - Biography". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  21. ^ "Sylvia Sleigh - Artist, Fine Art Prices, Auction Records for Sylvia Sleigh". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  22. ^ "Sylvia Sleigh - Biography". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 

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