Although Jared French began State Park during a summer on Fire Island, a beach community off Long Island’s south shore, he did not consider it a painting of a particular location. Instead, his austere, dreamlike scene is evocative of Surrealism’s patently unreal settings. Likewise, the entranced figures refer to Greek, Egyptian, and Renaissance art (for instance, the tanned lifeguard in the foreground has fixed, lidless eyes and the mannered stance of a Greek kouros). The overall effect is unsettling, despite the fact that there are no visible threats pictured: the sky is clear, the ocean calm, the beach unpopulated. The image’s mysterious figure groupings and sense of tension may reflect the fact that it was painted during a period in which French was conflicted between his marriage and a homosexual relationship.
Tempera on composition board
Overall: 24 7/16 × 24 1/2 in. (62.1 × 62.2 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. R. H. Donnelley Erdman
Rights and reproductions information
© artist or artist’s estate
Jared French, State Park, 1946
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.
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