This fall the Finnish postal service is celebrating the work of homoerotic artist Tom of Finland, the pseudonym of the artist Touko Laaksonen (1920–1991), by issuing a new set of stamps featuring his explicit drawings of men. The artist’s “emphatically masculine homoerotic drawings have attained iconic status in their genre and had an influence on, for instance, pop culture and fashion,” according to a statement from Itella Posti, as the Finnish postal service is known. The two drawings on the stamp sheet were selected by graphic artist Timo Berry, who designed the stamp, and Susanna Luoto, who is the Finnish representative of the Los Angeles–based foundation bearing the artist’s name. The selected images “represent strong and confident male figures typical of their designer,” says Berry. The sheet “portrays a sensual life force and being proud of oneself. There is never too much of that in this northern country,”said Berry. Also in September, the Postal service is opening a show entitled “Sealed with a Secret – Correspondence of Tom of Finland” at its new Postal Museum in Tampare, which will explore his correspondence with various friends ranging from the early 1940s until his death in 1991.
Clearly the Finns are not shy about embracing subject matter that some may view as too racy or suggestive. Recently a request by a group of zealous French philatelists was denied when they requested that Gustave Courbet’s notorious painting L’Origine du Monde be printed on postal stamps, Le Figaro reported. The Société Philatelique et cartophile de Besançon was hoping to use the French mail’s personalizing service, known as ID, to print stamps celebrating the forthcoming exhibition of the painting at the Musée Gustave Courbet in Ornans. But La Poste deemed the image “pornographic” and forbid the move—even though it had already been approved by the local authorities.
Outside the stamp world, Tom of Finland’s work appears to draw a solid, if small, international collecting base. The artnet database shows 30 instances of his work at auction. The highest price of $15,684 was achieved in October 2008 at Paris auction house Cornette De Saint-Cyr for S/T (Balls behind), circa 1985; the lowest price was $2,160 for a pencil on paper of an undated male nude, albeit below the low $3,000 estimate that Swann Galleries placed on the work at a November 2009 sale of contemporary and American Art. Another work by the artist that far outperformed expectations was his pen and ink Portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe (1979); it sold for $2,200 at Christie’s New York in October 1989 as part of the Robert Mapplethorpe Collection. No doubt the cachet of the artist’s famous peer’s name helped fire the price well above its modest $400 to $600 estimate.
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