The Turkish Bath
Culture: British (Welsh)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: Image: 76 x 102 x 2 in. (193 x 259.1 x 5.1 cm) Framed: 80 x 105 x 5 in. (203.2 x 266.7 x 12.7 cm)
Credit: Purchase, Paul and Miriam Kirkley Fund for Acquisitions
Accession No.: 2000.104
Not currently on view
About the Artwork
During the 1970s, Sylvia Sleigh created a series of portraits that explore some of the central concerns of feminist art making: female desire and sexuality; changing definitions of masculinity and femininity; and the impact of images, and artistic traditions, on social and personal perceptions. Often focusing on the male nude, these works, most notably the monumental, acclaimed The Turkish Bath, placed Sleigh at the forefront of the emerging women’s art movement in the United States. Both parodying and recasting Ingres’s painting of the same title as well as Titian’s (ca. 1488–1576) Venus and the Lute Player (1565–70), Sleigh portrays six life-size nude males in The Turkish Bath, arranged in her living room against the backdrop of a Turkish carpet. In place of the women in Ingres’s painting, whom she described as a “heap of flesh,” Sleigh portrayed a group of male art critics of the day: Scott Burton, John Parot, Carter Ratcliff, and her husband Lawrence Alloway, flanked on either side by her frequent model Paul Rosano. The painting urges questions about conventional roles through a gender reversal of both subject and viewer—transforming female odalisques into male and arraying them for the enjoyment of a presumably female gaze. But rather than performing a mere substitution and portraying these men as exotic others, Sleigh paints each in a highly individual and sympathetic fashion. Her refusal to objectify her sitters suggests additional layers of meaning: a lovingly rendered group portrait of friends and colleagues, a tribute to Sleigh’s artistic circle, and a complex reworking of mythological and historical conventions in contemporary terms.
About the Artist
Born in Wales and trained at the Brighton School of Art in Sussex, England, Sylvia Sleigh moved to New York in 1962, with her husband, art critic and curator Lawrence Alloway. There Sleigh exhibited in commercial galleries as well as alternative spaces such as the women’s cooperative galleries SoHo 20 and A.I.R Gallery. Experiences in Sleigh’s youth and her struggles as a female artist in the 1930s and ’40s incited her to examine gender discrimination and the importance of feminism, which guided her art for the rest of her life. As a portraitist, she sought to portray the individuality of her subjects through careful, sustained observation and interaction during the posing process. Throughout her career, she held teaching positions at several prestigious schools including Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois; the New School for Social Research in New York; and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Sleigh’s work has been featured in recent exhibitions including Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution (which began at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and toured from 2007 to 2009) and Ingres and the Moderns at the Musée national des Beaux-Arts, Quebec, where The Turkish Bath was shown alongside Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres’s (1780–1867) work of the same name.