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Edgar Leeteg: Father of Velvet Painting
by Jen Longshaw

Edgar Leeteg

You’re considered a great success when you inspire either devoted admiration or intense dislike in people. Edgar Leeteg, long considered to be the father of velvet painting, is no exception.

Born in St Louis in 1904 he first worked as a billboard painter and sign writer in California before heading for the more exotic location of Tahiti in the 1930s. On his arrival he eked out a meagre living by selling erotic paintings of Tahitian beauties to visiting sailors.

This all changed when Barney Davis discovered Leeteg’s work. The heavily tattooed former submariner owned a Honolulu gallery and with shrewd marketing savvy branded the artist the “American Gaugin”. This ensured that by the 1940s an original Leeteg fetched thousands of dollars.

Specialising in voluptuous topless Micronesian women on velvet Leeteg completed 1,700 portraits that were eagerly snapped up by collectors. His growing financial success allowed him to buy a pink Tahitian home which he named “Villa Velour” complete with Italian marble summerhouse and an aquarium bar. He also acquired a reputation as a hard drinker and womaniser ensuring the failure of his four marriages.

Leeteg may have worked hard but he also played hard, enjoying his success until the day he died in a motorcycle crash in 1953. He was 49 years old.

©Jen Longshaw 2007 Please do not copy in any manner, print or electronic, without permission from the author.


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