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Sylvia Sleigh, Prominent Painter, Dies at Age 94, Seminal Work On View at the Hudson River Museum
Sylvia Sleigh (1916-2010), Invitation to a Voyage: The Hudson River at Fishkill, 1979-99. Oil on canvas, 3 panels of 14 total, each 96 x 60 inches. Gift of the artist.
NEW YORK, NY.- Prominent painter Sylvia Sleigh, noted for her feminist portrait genre painting, died, at age 94, on Sunday, October 24. Several panels of her most ambitious work, a panorama titled Invitation to a Voyage: the Hudson River at Fishkill, 1979 -99, is now on view at the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers. In July 2006, Ms. Sleigh made one of the most significant gifts of art to a museum, when she donated the work to the Hudson River Museum. Its 14 panels, which stretch to a length 70 feet, depict a summer gathering of friends similar to scenes of pastoral gatherings by the 18th-century French painter Jean Antoine Watteau.

Invitation to a Voyage was inspired by a train trip to Albany, where Sleigh was impressed by the beauty of the river and Bannerman’s Castle on Pollopel Island. She divided the work into the “Riverside” panels, which represent her ambition as a seminal figure in the feminist art movement and, the “Woodside” panels that show the culmination of her career. Invitation to a Voyage, like Sleigh’s early paintings, shows her desire to connect to the grand-history painting of the art historical tradition, as she rebelled against the constraints of Modernism.

Although her trademark style first coalesced in the late 1960s, Sleigh’s art was historically linked with that of the feminist movement of the 1970s. It was during this decade that she gained prominence, and her work was strongly associated with pioneering cooperative showcases for women such as the A.I.R. Gallery. However, Sleigh’s association with both the feminist art world and the dominant “art establishment” of the day was always nuanced, particularly because of her close relationship with her husband, the noted art critic and curator Lawrence Alloway.

Although she also painted female nudes, much of Sleigh’s reputation, championed by critics such as Linda Nochlin, rests on her attempts to reverse the traditional artistic “male gaze” by painting men in the languid poses usually reserved for women models. In doing so, she was never denigrating, but rather admiring, of the male body, taking care to convey each sitter’s dignity and individuality— a courtesy that Sleigh complained male artists, such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, have historically failed to do for women. However, rather than stemming from an impulse for revenge, her images became an opportunity to give women a pleasurable image of male beauty.

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