Sylvia Sleigh


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Painter. Known for figural images, landscapes, and still lifes, Sleigh gained prominence in the 1970s for her contributions to feminist art. Her subjects at that time included portraits of other women artists, sometimes sporting tongue-in-cheek mythological guises, and more notoriously, sensuous male nudes. Born in Llandudno, North Wales, she received her training at the Brighton School of Art in Sussex, studied art history at the University of London, and held her first one-person show in London in 1954. She moved to New York in 1961. Active in the feminist movement from an early date, in the 1970s she put her delicately detailed realism to its service. In a complex 1977 group portrait, the twenty-one current members (including Sleigh) of A.I.R., a pioneering, artist-run women's gallery, form a spirited cohort. Sleigh's satirical role-reversal images of men in voluptuous poses draw on the tradition of Titian and Velázquez to subvert the male gaze. Among later works, the seventy-foot-long Invitation to a Voyage: The Hudson River at Fishkill (1979–99) ranks as the most notable. With a nod to French rococo painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, she delivers a modern pastorale inhabited by city friends enjoying a summer day at water's edge.

In 1943 Sleigh met Lawrence Alloway (1926–90), later a prominent critic, who was also taking art history classes at the University of London. They married in 1954, after she was divorced from painter Michael Greenwood. A London-area native, in the mid-1950s Alloway figured prominently in the progressive circle that spawned the development of British pop art, which he christened in a 1958 essay. After the couple moved to the United States, he taught for a year at Bennington (Vermont) College before they settled permanently in New York. Both were later naturalized as American citizens. He worked as a curator and teacher, in addition to writing wide-ranging art criticism that demonstrated an unusually acute attentiveness to forms of popular culture. His books include The Venice Biennale, 1895–1968: From Salon to Goldfish Bowl (1969), Violent America: The Movies, 1946–1964 (1971), American Pop Art (1974), Topics in American Art Since 1945 (1975), and monographs on American artists.

Subjects: Art.

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