Audio guide stop for Jared French, State Park, 1946
NARRATOR: Jared French’s painting of a day at the beach seems straightforward enough at first. But the painting’s narrative is ambiguous. Art historian Richard Meyer is the author of Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art.
RICHARD MEYER: The figure in the foreground is holding up a billyclub or nightstick and the figure in the background is holding up his fist. And it's almost as though even though they're distanced from each other by the family they're engaged in some kind of combat or confrontation with each other. And what stands between– … what stands between…them is the family. But the family does not look at each other.
This is by no means a picture of the American dream. And there is a kind of alienation which is also. . .very much a part of postwar American culture. This idea that maybe things aren't so great in the suburbs or, and maybe, you know, things aren't so happy with the nuclear family—mom, dad, and little boy.
There is a real strangeness about the issue of relationality, about what it means to be with another person or persons and what it means to be alone. And I think that that's part of what's strange and compelling about the picture.
NARRATOR: The muscular men are somewhat threatening. But their heavily muscled physiques are also very much eroticized. The scene is probably meant to be set on Fire Island, a popular destination for gay men. French spent the summers there with two other artists—his wife Margaret and his lover, the painter Paul Cadmus. To hear about this unconventional arrangement, press the “play” button.