Biographical / Historical Note
Related Archival Materials
Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Sylvia Sleigh papers
Date (inclusive): 1803-2011, bulk 1940-2000
80.2 Linear Feet
(138 boxes, 6 flatfile folders)
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles 90049-1688
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.
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described in this inventory through the
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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
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.
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.
Sylvia Sleigh papers, 1803-2011, bulk 1940-2000, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles,
Accession no. 2004.M.4
Gift of Sylvia Sleigh and The Estate of Sylvia Sleigh Alloway in 2004, 2010, and 2012.
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
Cataloged in Alma as MMS 9927976760001551.
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:
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
for this collection.
More than 200 publications were transferred to the general collection of the Getty Research
Institute. They can be found by searching the
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
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
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
Sylvia Sleigh: An Invitation to a Voyage and Other Works
An Unnerving Romanticism: The Art of Sylvia Sleigh and Lawrence
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),
Harmonious and Discordant
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
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
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,
Series III. Art documentation,
circa 1930-2010, undated;
Series IV. Writings and lectures,
Series V. Women artist
organizations and cooperatives, 1972-2011;
Series VI. Teaching,
Series VII. Printed matter,
Series VIII. Personal, 1803-2010,
Subjects - Names
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