Edgar Leeteg (1904 St. Louis, Missouri - 1953) was an American painter often considered the father of American velvet painting. Before Leeteg, black velvet painting was primarily considered a hobby, not an art.
Leeteg initially worked as a billboard painter and sign writer in California before losing his job due to the depression. Taking a small inheritance, Leeteg moved to Tahiti in 1933 with a few brushes and some paint stolen from his previous employer. Using the women of the island as his models, he sold paintings to visiting sailors.
Leeteg's best work was done between the years 1933 and 1953. He lived in Cook's Bay, Tahiti using the dark skinned women of the island as his models. His main subject was beautiful Polynesian women, and he painted them amidst their background, their culture and their history. The eroticism, colour and detail of these paintings made him famous.
Leeteg's popularity soared following a fortunate meeting with Honolulu art gallery owner Bernard Davis, who became his patron. It was with Davis' help that Leeteg built his great Villa Velour estate in Tahiti. Davis worked as Leeteg's agent and they had a fruitful and profitable relationship together. His paintings were popular in bars in America and Polynesia.
Davis branded Leeteg the 'American Gauguin', and soon Leeteg's paintings were being sold for thousands of dollars. However, fame as an artist is something he never expected saying "My paintings belong in a gin mill, not a museum. If this modern crap is art, then just call my paintings beautiful. Don't call them art."
Edgar Leeteg died in 1953 of a motorcycle crash at the age of 49.