Lt. Claggett Wilson, queer masculinity, and the formation of American modernism
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An American artist best known for a 1919 watercolor series that depicts scenes of the First World War, Claggett Wilson's varied oeuvre includes watercolors, oil paintings, stage sets, costumes, murals, and decorative interiors. Through skilled social-networking, self-promotion, and a willingness to reach outside the discipline boundaries of fine art, Wilson successfully navigated the interwar art world, securing exhibitions, garnering critical favor, and attracting prominent commissions and benefactors. Whether rendering the theater of operations or crafting spaces within which inhabitants performed fashioned identities, his decades-long career was heavily influenced by his involvement within various New York art and theater scenes and his familiarity with contemporaneous queer culture. This dissertation culls the archives to reconstruct the life of this now-forgotten artist, calling attention to his performative stance as an ideal soldier and aesthete. Additionally, this dissertation provides a framework for situating Wilson's art through close studies of his most discussed bodies of work, which include war scenes, paintings of Basque sailors, and the mural program and interior design of Ten Chimneys in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin. I argue that Wilson's art was at once conservative in its upholding of certain national, racial, and class values, while at the same time sexually rebellious, pushing against contemporary norms of bourgeois respectability. His visual humor employed a range of references, from historical aesthetic styles to contemporary racial stereotypes and political events, and spoke to particular interpretive communities that became increasingly narrow as his artistic projects moved from the New York art scene to midwestern domestic interiors and back.
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