Apr 26, 2018

Donald De Lue and the Male Nudes of Public Art

The Boy Scout Memorial, on the Ellipse in Washington DC, gives visitors quite an eyeful.  A muscular man who has apparently just stripped is walking beside the boy scout.

He represents nothing more arcane than "American Manhood."  There's a fully-clothed woman, also, representing "American Womanhood."

It is particularly surprising because it was sculpted in 1963, when male nudity was not commonplace in public art, even with the penis covered.

The sculptor was Donald De Lue (1897-1988), who grew up in Boston and studied in Paris, like many artists of his generation.  After eleven years as assistant to sculptor Bryant Baker, he pushed out on his own, specializing in public art.

Stately,  muscular male nudes, gods and other mythological and allegorical figures.

Like this Babylonian-style frieze "Law and Justice," on the Federal Building in Philadelphia, is from 1941, just before the U.S. entered World War II.

Or The Rocket Thrower, created for the 1964 World's Fair, now at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, New York.

Among his most famous sculptures is The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves, in the American Cemetery at Normandy (1956).

Most of his public art hides the penis, but his smaller pieces don't.  The Sun God (1937) is now at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Icarus (1934) is at the Smithsonian.

Of course, drawing artistic inspiration from the bodies of naked, muscular men doesn't necessarily mean that you are gay.  But it doesn't mean that you are straight, either.

1 comment:

  1. There was a neoclassical period in American art, from about the 20s to the 60s, mostly for historical or fantastic subjects, or personified concepts like manhood, womanhood, law, justice, progress, and sacrifice. Within that movement, you see a lot of nude muscular males, often with fully clothed females next to them. This reflects Greek ideals: Athletes, gods, and heroes being nude, while female subjects weren't outside of an erotic context. (Aphrodite, of course, is nude for this reason.)

    For public works, or for works you might send in the mail, the genitalia were covered by a loincloth or similar. There are still dioramas at natural history museums which follow this rule.

    Fantasy art ultimately evolved even more toward bodybuilding, a more hyperreal look. Which brings us to Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, and Julie Bell. If the average male is between 7 and 8 heads tall, the hero must be 9 heads tall, and gods must be at least 10! But ultimately there was a reaction against that, and fantasy art entered the "D&D manual" period. Today, the big thing is photorealistic art.


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