How Yul Brynner bared all for the sake of art

Yul Brynner, Somerset Maugham and Tennessee Williams are among the unlikely models in rediscovered nude photographic studies by a group of artists and photographers working in New York from the Thirties to the Fifties. Few of the images were intended for public consumption. The photographs were too intimate and sexualised for their times. In the Thirties, the male nude was still considered generally acceptable only in the safely aestheticised context of Grecian urns and laurel leaves.

The group was loose-knit, and used each other, as well as friends and acquaintances, as models. Brynner was an aspiring actor earning a living playing guitar and singing at parties when he did a series of poses for fashion photographer George Platt Lynes in 1942, which now seem remarkable for their nonchalance - not what one would expect from a future King of Siam. Tennessee Williams was photographed by "Pajama" (the working name for three collaborating artists - the magic realist Paul Cadmus, Jared French and Margaret French) a couple of years before the success of The Glass Menagerie. Williams was introduced to Pajama by novelist Donald Windham, who also modelled, and with whom he later collaborated on the play You Touched Me.

The photographs have been brought together for the first time in a collection which shows the professional and personal links between all those involved. They vary widely in style. The Pajama photographs, for example, are more natural and unposed, partly because many were taken outdoors, on Fire Island, off the southern shore of Long Island, although these images do sometimes incorporate sculptural elements such as driftwood. Other Pajama images were taken indoors, in Provincetown or at a New York apartment, but without sets and props. They were not printed with special attention, nor were they carefully preserved; some were used merely as a reference for paintings.

George Platt Lynes, however, stands out as both an artist and a craftsman: his work ranks alongside that of Hoyningen-Heune and Man Ray. He has a subtle, surrealist-inspired aesthetic which developed through his contact with the Parisian avant garde of the 1930s. He experimented with poses, montage effects, lighting techniques and airbrushing. One can see his influence in the male nude work of Mapplethorpe, Webber and Ritts.

The group's importance at the centre of New York artistic life waned in the Fifties. Platt Lynes, whose fashion career fell apart as his obsession with the non-commercial male nude grew, died of lung cancer in 1955, aged 48. Abstract Expressionists were coming to dominate the art scene and artists such as Cadmus whose principal subject was the human body were going out of fashion. The various principals of the group had been dispersing for some time, leaving New York, alone or with lovers, putting the wraps on a few brief and surprising modelling careers, for a future generation to rediscover

`Naked Men, pioneering male nudes 1935-1955', by David Leddick is published by Little, Brown, pounds 25. A selling exhibition of George Platt Lynes' photographs is at the Hartnoll Gallery, 14 Mason's Yard, Duke Street St James's, London SW1 (0171-839 3842) until 20 June

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas