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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical / Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Related Archival Materials
  • Separated Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Sylvia Sleigh papers
    Date (inclusive): 1803-2011, bulk 1940-2000
    Number: 2004.M.4
    Creator/Collector: Sleigh, Sylvia
    Physical Description: 80.2 Linear Feet (138 boxes, 6 flatfile folders)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: The papers of noted Welsh-born feminist painter Sylvia Sleigh (1916-2010) document her life, career, and the larger context of contemporary feminist art, with the bulk of the collection dating from 1940-2000. Sleigh, a realist painter, moved to the United States in 1961 with her husband, art critic Lawrence Alloway. Sleigh's paintings of nude males in traditional odalisque poses remain her best-known works. She was a central figure in the New York City area feminist art movement of the 1970s.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English

    Biographical / Historical Note

    Sylvia Sleigh Alloway (1916-2010), known professionally as Sylvia Sleigh throughout her career, was a noted realist painter, curator, and feminist. Welsh-born, she was active primarily in the New York City area where she lived, along with her husband, art critic Lawrence Alloway, from 1961-2010. Sleigh's paintings of nude males in traditional odalisque poses remain her best-known works.
    Born Sylvia Margaret Sleigh in Llandudno, Wales on May 8, 1916, she was raised by her maternal grandmother in Hove, Sussex. Her parents separated early in her childhood. Her mother, Katherine Cancedda, moved to Africa, and later to France, remarried two times, and had three more children. Sleigh's relationship with her mother was strained throughout her life and she had virtually no contact with her half sisters. Sleigh's father, John Sleigh, lived continuously in England and maintained a pleasant, yet somewhat distanced relationship with Sleigh.
    Sleigh was an enthusiastic artist and painter during her childhood and attended the Brighton School of Art in Sussex, England. She became a seamstress and dressmaker and eventually opened her own shop in Brighton. In 1941, she married local artist and art history lecturer Michael Greenwood, moving with him to London. Their marriage lasted thirteen years, during which Greenwood and Sleigh often lived apart-Sleigh in Pett and Greenwood in London. Her relationship with Greenwood and proximity to the art world helped reignite her love of art and she began to pursue painting professionally.
    In 1944, while taking night classes in art history at the University of London, Sleigh met Lawrence Alloway, then 17 years old. Thus began a close friendship and, later, romantic relationship that would result in the two marrying immediately upon Sleigh's divorce from Greenwood in 1954. Often unhappy in her relationship with Greenwood, Sleigh found a true partner in Alloway. Concurrently, Alloway was beginning his own foray into the world of art criticism and greatly encouraged Sleigh's career. He begins appearing as a model in Sleigh's paintings in the late 1940s.
    Sleigh's first documented participation in a group show was in 1950; her first solo exhibition was in 1953 at the Kensington Art Gallery in London. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, her work consists primarily of still lifes, landscapes, and portraits.
    In 1961, Alloway accepted a teaching position at Bennington College in Vermont and he and Sleigh moved to New York City. The city would remain their primary residence for the rest of their lives. From 1962 to 1966 Alloway was the curator of the Guggenheim and Sleigh continued to pursue painting.
    During the 1960s, Sleigh began the theme in her work that is perhaps best known today-male nudes in traditional female poses as seen in paintings by old masters such as Velasquez and Ingres. For example, Philip Golub Reclining (1971) plays on Velasquez's Rokeby Venus. Her work challenged traditional conventions of the female nude. Sleigh worked almost exclusively with models she knew well and with whom she had personal relationships. She sought to humanize her nudes by treating them as women historically had not been, as individuals. In The Turkish Bath (1973) Sleigh uses Ingres' painting of the same name as a vehicle to portray five men she respected and cared for: art critics Lawrence Alloway, Scott Burton, John Perreault, and Carter Ratcliff with two images of her frequent model Paul Rosano. Sleigh's professional breakthrough, which coincided with the burgeoning feminist movement, happened early in the 1970s when her nudes began to garner more attention. In 1973 the Village Voice declared that, "The nude portrait and nude male portrait by a woman artist is one of Sleigh's strongest accomplishments. Invention of any new genre is never exact, but occurs within a context; in this case, feminism and art history."
    Life in New York City in the 1970s proved to be fertile ground for Sleigh's beliefs and talents as she became more active in the feminist movement. She was a founding member of the Soho20 Gallery, an all women, artist-run gallery, in 1973 and was a member of Artists in Residence (A.I.R.) Gallery, another all-women artist-run gallery from 1974-1978. Sleigh continued her promotion of women artists for the rest of her life, assembling a large collection of contemporary women artists' works. Close friends and associates included May Stevens, Lucy Sallick, Maureen Conoor, Rosemary Mayer, and Dottie Attie.
    In addition to her painting and activism, in the 1970s and early 1980s Sleigh held several temporary teaching positions at the New School for Social Research, Queens College, and State University of New York at Stony Brook. In 1977, Sleigh was awarded the Edith Kreeger Wolf Distinguished Professorship at Northwestern University.
    Alloway's health declined throughout the 1980s, due to a neurological disorder, until his death in 1990. Sleigh continued to create new work and pursue new projects throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. In the 1980s she worked on a series of portraits of women artists, and in the 1990s returned to her theme of classical nudes with male subjects. For approximately twenty years, Sleigh worked on a large-scale, ten-panel piece, Invitation to a Voyage (1970-1999) which was exhibited in several one-woman shows as well as in a retrospective of her work at the Hudson River Museum.
    On October 24, 2010 Sleigh passed away after suffering a stroke in New York City.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers with the following exceptions. Audio and video recordings and computer files are unavailable until reformatted. Student records in Box 64, folder 10 are SEALED until 2063 per Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) legislation and institutional policy.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Sylvia Sleigh papers, 1803-2011, bulk 1940-2000, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2004.M.4

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of Sylvia Sleigh and The Estate of Sylvia Sleigh Alloway in 2004, 2010, and 2012.

    Processing History

    The collection was rehoused by the Registrar's Office upon receipt in 2004. Additional material received in 2010 and 2012 was rehoused by Maggie Hughes in 2011 and 2012. The entire collection was processed, arranged, and described by Maggie Hughes in 2012 under the supervision of Andra Darlington.
    With the exception of the women artists' announcements in Series VII.B., the arrangement scheme for the collection was imposed during processing in the absence of a discernable original order.
    Cataloged in Alma as MMS 9927976760001551.

    Digital Collection

    In 2015 the correspondence between Sylvia Sleigh and Lawrence Alloway from 1949 to 1982 was digitized as part of the GRI research project, "Lawrence Alloway, Critic and Curator." The digitized correspondence is available for research: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2004m4b1f5_9 

    Related Archival Materials

    Related archival material can be found in the Lawrence Alloway papers (accession no. 2003.M.46), 1935-2003, held by the Getty Research Institute. Click here for the catalog record   for this collection.

    Separated Materials

    More than 200 publications were transferred to the general collection of the Getty Research Institute. They can be found by searching the library catalog  for the phrase "Sylvia Sleigh Collection" as the source collection.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The papers of noted Welsh-born feminist painter Sylvia Sleigh date from 1803-2011, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1940-2000. The archive documents her life, career, and the larger context of contemporary feminist art, concentrated in the New York City area-- her primary residence beginning in 1961. The papers are comprised of correspondence with family, friends, and colleagues; project files relating to exhibitions of Sleigh's work; documentation of Sleigh's and others' work; writings and lectures by Sleigh and others; files concerning Sleigh's involvement with women artist organizations and cooperatives; teaching files; printed matter in the form of clippings, ephemera, and publications; and personal material, including photographs, legal, and financial documents.
    Correspondence in Series I is of both a personal and professional nature. The vast majority of material is incoming correspondence, from others to Sleigh; there are few outgoing letters. A significant portion is from close family and friends. There are several linear feet of letters from Sleigh's first husband, Michael Greenwood. Please see the Lawrence Alloway papers (accession no. 2003.M.46) for more correspondence from the same years between Sleigh and her second husband, Alloway. Daily letters were exchanged between both Sleigh and Greenwood, and between Sleigh and Alloway during the years that Sleigh was in relationships with both men. Correspondents that were both colleagues and friends of Sleigh's include Eleanor Antin, Helene Aylon, Ada and Alex Katz, Bibi Lencek, Rosemary Mayer, Sabra Moore, Lucy Sallick, Rhea Sanders, Nancy Spero, May Stevens, and William Stipe. Other noted correspondents include museums and galleries with which she worked such as Deson Gallery, G.W. Einstein Company, Inc., Hemingway Galleries, Milwaukee Museum of Art, Smart Museum of Art, and Zaks Gallery; and publications she was involved with such as Womanart and Visual Dialog. It should be noted that the majority of correspondence that relates to specific exhibitions or organizations can be found in files within Series II. Projects and Series V. Women artist organizations and cooperatives. Correspondence-related material includes Sleigh's address books; addresses and mailing lists; very early and personal correspondence belonging to her and her extended family dating from the late nineteenth century and Sleigh's youth; letters written by Sleigh's father to Sleigh's grandmother during World War I; and Michael Greenwood's personal correspondence.
    The project files of Series II relate to projects Sleigh was involved with including both exhibitions of her work and exhibitions she curated, and spans her entire career. Exhibition files include all solo and group shows documented in the collection, amounting to over 150 shows beginning in 1950s England and continuing mainly in the United States from 1961-2010. Documents relate to the planning, curating, and execution of Sleigh's exhibitions. Major exhibitions include Sylvia Sleigh: An Invitation to a Voyage and Other Works (1990), An Unnerving Romanticism: The Art of Sylvia Sleigh and Lawrence Alloway (2001), and WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution (2007-2008). Other projects consist of exhibitions curated by Sleigh including Realist Painting: People and Objects in Women's Lives (1982), Color: Harmonious and Discordant (1983), and Parallel Visions: Portraits of Women Artists and Writers (1999); as well as book, film, theater, and website projects. Among the files are correspondence, diagrams, ephemera, exhibition catalogs, exhibition lists, fliers, pamphlets, photographs, press releases, schedules, audio recordings, and shipping and transportation records.
    The art documentation files of Series III are comprised primarily of records of the works of art Sleigh produced and the processes by which she produced them. Among the files are inventories, subject and form descriptions, slides, photographs, negatives, and storage and transportation records. Photographs include preparatory studies for works and photographic documentation of her paintings. A small amount of material relates to the artistic practice of others and consists of photocopies, photographs, sound recordings, and slides of their work and resumes.
    Among the writings and lecture files of Series IV are Sleigh's appointment books and calendars, files that document lectures given, original manuscripts, notebooks containing a wide variety of topics, brief notes, and writings by others. Main topics are the quotidian, art in general, and Sleigh's works. Material consists of appointment books, calendars, correspondence, ephemera, inventories, manuscripts, notebooks, notes, poetry, and audio and video recordings.
    The women artist organizations and cooperatives files of Series V relate to those with which Sleigh was involved in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s and includes Artists in Residence (AIR), Soho 20, Women's Caucus on Art (WCA), and others. The subjects of feminism, women artists, equality, and contemporary art are documented through correspondence, schedules, minutes, notes, publications, ephemera, and audio recordings.
    The teaching files of Series VI are comprised of supporting material that document the various short-term art teaching positions Sleigh held such as those at New School for Social Research and Northwestern University. Files contain correspondence, ephemera, attendance records, and notes.
    The printed matter files of Series VII contain clippings about Sleigh, art, and other topics of general interest to Sleigh; ephemera primarily related to art exhibitions includes posters, postcards, catalogs, fliers, brochures, press releases, and announcements; and publications such as newspapers and magazines about art, culture, and current events. Discrete files of women artists' announcements that Sleigh created and maintained have been preserved.
    The personal files of Series VIII include research files Sleigh compiled concerning Alloway; records of her personal art collection; financial records; legal records; papers relating to Alloway's death, early family records, education, home office, possessions, and travel; and photographs documenting Sleigh's friends, family, vacations and daily life. Material includes passports, birth certificates, correspondence, inventories, bills, receipts, expense reports, clippings, photographs, slides, and negatives.


    The collection is arranged as eight series: Series I. Correspondence, 1874-2010, undated, bulk 1940-1990; Series II. Project files, 1936-2010, undated; Series III. Art documentation, circa 1930-2010, undated; Series IV. Writings and lectures, 1930s-2010; Series V. Women artist organizations and cooperatives, 1972-2011; Series VI. Teaching, 1940s-2002; Series VII. Printed matter, 1914-2010; Series VIII. Personal, 1803-2010, bulk 1940-2000.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Sleigh, Sylvia
    Alloway, Lawrence

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    A.I.R. Gallery (New York, N.Y.)
    Soho 20 (Gallery)

    Subjects - Topics

    Feminism and art -- United States
    Art, American -- 20th century
    Artists -- Correspondence
    Women artists -- United States -- 20th century

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Slides (photographs)
    Black-and-white photographs
    Color photographs
    Color negatives
    Photographs, Original
    Black-and-white negatives
    Color slides
    Appointment books


    Alloway, Lawrence
    Sleigh, Sylvia