He was not just another pretty
face.Dancer par excellence, exquisite sculptor, vastly talented painter and a competent actor. That is Paul Swan. On top of
it all, he was dubbed as “the most beautiful man in the world.” Times called him, “America’s
Leonardo da Vinci “in 1930.
Curiously, this multi-talented,
handsome man who was unique in his own right is nearly forgotten today. Most of his portrait paintings were lost and only
It is but right that he should
be recognized for his contribution in American arts, -dance, painting and sculpture.
Paul Spencer Swan was born in
Asland, Illinois in 1883. Even his name sounds beautiful. His artistic career began when he enrolled at the Institute of Chicago
and studied painting . Three years later, he saw the actress Alla Nazimova, painted her and gifted her with the portrait.She
was impressed and commissioned him to do 5 more paintings.With the money he earned , he embarked on a voyage to Greece to
study classical sculpture and dance. He was good at both and excelled in both. But it was dancing that gave him
more money ,fame and fortune. His graceful movements earned him the title of America’s
first and best dancer.In his haydays,he danced among the best – Ted Shawn, Ruth Saint Denis and Isadora Duncan (to name
In his early
thirties, though a confessed bisexual who also had affairs with men,he married Helen Gavit of New York,the granddaughter of noted American Painter Erastus Palmer.They had two daughters
,Paula and Flora. Swan and his family spent many happy times in the Gavit summer estate in Adirondach Village of Stony Creek
near Lake Georgeia.
Here, the artist painted with oil and watercolor to the tune of classical music, particularly Wagner. During his lifetime,
Swan painted and sculpted many luminary figures such as Maurice Ravel, Charles Lindbergh, Pres.Franklin D.Roosevelt,Prince
Bira of Siam, Pope Paul VI,composer Percy
Grainger and John F.Kennedy.Swan even established an artists’ Colony in Stony Creek He held classes in aesthetics and
dancing. He firmly believed in individualism.He also said that “to realize most truly one’s nature is to measure
one’s greatness.”His motto was “seek ye first the kingdom of self-expression and all the worldly things
will be added to you.It was reputed that his Adirondach colony “was open to all artists who have ideals to work for
and courage to cling to them in the face of ridicule” (Southern Women’s Magazine).
(the proponent of “everyone will have his 15 minute of fame”) made a film about Paul Swan when he was nearly 80
years old. His dancing body and good looks gone, he became less and less of an attraction and sensation, until he passed away
in 1972 in Bedford Hills, New York.It is not fair that others who were made of lesser stuff could still be remembered and
revered through the years and a man like Paul Swan would not, simply because he lost his youthful exuberance and beauty towards
the end of his life.After all, no one can defy time and old age.
But he left
a legacy of his works as a dancer, painter and sculptor.
He even won awards in the Paris Salon in the 1930s.
of writer Paul B. Franklin may well be the best epitaph for Paul Spencer Swan., - “dancer, painter, poet, actor and
gay camp idol, Paul Swan was a true original!”.