Female Gaze Friday: Sylvia Sleigh’s “At The Turkish Bath”

Representations of the male figure in art are far less common than works depicting women. A long history of straight men dominating the art world has led to many images of winsome women, but fewer of beautiful men (I’ve written on this subject before; if you’d like to read more about the lack of male figures in art check it out here).

Every Female Gaze Friday I will post a woman-created work of art depicting a man—one small act to reverse the male gaze! Not all images will be provocative, many will be nonsexual or even disturbing. Hopefully this will be a way of learning more about women artists (as well as looking at dudes)!

This week’s piece is At the Turkish Bath by feminist painter Sylvia Sleigh:

Sylvia Sleigh, At The Turkish Bath, 1976, oil on canvas, 76"x100"

Sylvia Sleigh, At The Turkish Bath, 1976, oil on canvas, 76″x100″

Notably active in the 1970s, Sleigh created works that reversed artistic tradition by depicting men in poses associated with women (This seems like an excellent moment to link to “What If the Male Avengers Posed Like the Female Ones?“). In fact, this piece references Ingres’s 1862 painting The Turkish Bath:

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, The Turkish Bath, 1862, oil on wood, 43"x43"

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, The Turkish Bath, 1862, oil on wood, 43″x43″

At the Turkish Bath is the first Sleigh piece I’d ever seen and is still on view at the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art. Sleigh works her husband into the painting as the reclining man.

As a bonus piece for Female Gaze Friday, we have Sleigh’s work Philip Golub Reclining:

Sylvia Sleigh, Philip Golub Reclining, 1971

Sylvia Sleigh, Philip Golub Reclining, 1971

This painting is a gender-reversed version of the Rokeby Venus by Velázquez. It’s also an intriguing example of a work representing a clothed female artist and a nude male model (I’ve written about the trend of clothed male artists and nude female models before).

Check back on Fridays for more images of men by women. And feel free to suggest works of art or artists in the comments!

Take a look at our previous Female Gaze Friday: Sarah Faux’s Man in Bed.


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4 thoughts on “Female Gaze Friday: Sylvia Sleigh’s “At The Turkish Bath”

  1. I love these Female Gaze blogs. The male form is beautiful, especially when viewed through the eyes of a woman. I look forward to seeing more of these, so please keep doing them. I know it may be difficult to find material, but I want you to know that you work matters.

    • Thank you! These are fun and not too difficult for me to write; so I should be able to keep it up. I already have them queued through October 🙂

      Right now I’m looking for more works of nude men depicted by women, so if you (or anyone else who sees this!) knows of work like that send it my way!

  2. OK, I realize this is totally off your main point, but what are these people doing with stringed instruments in the bath??!? As a musician that is just very distressing to me. I can’t imagine how often they are having to retune! 😉

    Sleigh’s version of the bath isn’t nearly as sybaritic as Ingres’, mostly because it has so few people in it. Do you think that was a deliberately intended effect?

    I too am very much enjoying this series, and thanks for including the bonus “woman clothed, man nude” piece by Sleigh. I’d love to see more of those – they’re so intensely counter-patriarchy.

    • What, you don’t lounge around in the bath with your instrument? How will you be creatively inspired??? 😛

      Sleigh’s work is definitely less sensual in a number of ways. The men have visible tan lines, their posing is far more stilted, and while Ingres’ piece has women draped all over one another Sleigh’s men are mostly not touching. I think one of the things that stands out in Sleigh’s painting is that all of the men have distinct personalities, because they are specific people (mostly art critics), while in Ingres the women are anonymous and decorative. Sleigh says (in the second video linked below), “This is how you should’ve painted us. Different skin colors, different personalities. You know, like real people!”. That’s what stands out to me the most, the fact that the people she paints are specific people.

      Here are a couple of relevant videos you might be interested in. The Smart Museum of Art interviewed Sleigh about her work:

      Thank you! I’m glad you’re enjoying this. I’m having a lot of fun hunting down work. You should check out the videos if you like Sleigh’s paintings. She has a lot more male nudes to see!

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