I FIRST CAME TO KNOW the artist Bernard Perlin not through one of his extraordinary paintings, but through an exquisite photographic portrait taken of him in 1940 by the legendary photographer George Platt Lynes. That portrait, included in a book of Lynes’ photography that I acquired about a decade ago, shows a 21-year-old Perlin standing in his shirtsleeves, one arm flung up over his forehead, with languid eyes peering out beneath. I was instantly beguiled and thereafter haunted by this mysterious figure, about whom very little information was then available, aside from some images of his own evocative artwork.
Compounding the fascination for me was the fact that I had found the name of this mystery man, Bernard Perlin, threaded through all of the books I was then reading about the illustrious gay social and artistic circle of which George Platt Lynes had been a part from the 1930s through the 1950s. It seemed that Perlin had been intimately connected with this great New York gay “cabal,” whose members and visitors had included such artists as Paul Cadmus, Jared French, George Tooker, Pavel Tchelitchew, the impresario Lincoln Kirstein, and such literary figures as E. M. Forster, Somerset Maugham, Christopher Isherwood, Glenway Wescott, and Truman Capote. I soon came to discover that Bernard Perlin was the last living member of this extraordinary company.
The fortuitous purchase of a beautiful Perlin drawing a few years later gave me the impetus (and excuse) to finally reach out to him. He answered my “fan letter” with a phone call that left me completely in his thrall. Bernard, I quickly realized, was a storyteller the likes of whom I had never before encountered. After a flurry of convivial phone calls and letters, I was summoned to his home in Connecticut.