Duncan Grant  Bathing 1911  Oil paint on canvas  2286 x 3061 mm  © Tate

To mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales, Tate Britain will host the first exhibition dedicated to queer British art.

Taking place from 5 April until 1 October, the show will present work from the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy in 1861 to the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 – a time of seismic shifts in gender and sexuality that found expression in the arts as artists and viewers explored their desires, experiences and sense of self.

Spanning the playful to the political, the explicit to the domestic, you’ll be able to see the rich diversity of queer visual art and its role in society.

Themes explored will include coded desires amongst the Pre-Raphaelites, representations of and by women who defied convention (including Virginia Woolf), and love and lust in sixties Soho. It will feature works by major artists such as Francis Bacon, Keith Vaughan, Evelyn de Morgan, Gluck, Glyn Philpot, Claude Cahun and Cecil Beaton alongside queer ephemera, personal photographs, film and magazines.

David Hockney  Life Painting for a Diploma  1962  Yageo Foundation  © Yageo Foundation

David Hockney Life Painting for a Diploma 1962 Yageo Foundation © Yageo Foundation

Duncan Grant  Bathing 1911  Oil paint on canvas  2286 x 3061 mm  © Tate

Duncan Grant Bathing 1911 Oil paint on canvas 2286 x 3061 mm © Tate

Work from 1861 to 1967 will range from covert images of same-sex desire such as Simeon Solomon’s Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene 1864 through to the open appreciation of queer culture in David Hockney’s Going to be a Queen for Tonight 1960.

A highlight of the exhibition will be a section focusing on the Bloomsbury set and their contemporaries – an artistic group famous for their bohemian attitude towards sexuality. The room will include intimate paintings of lovers, scenes of the homes artists shared with their partners and large commissions by artists such as Duncan Grant and Ethel Walker.

Angus McBean (1904-1990)  Quentin Crisp  1941  Bromide print  National Portrait Gallery (London, UK)  © Estate of Angus McBean / National Portrait Gallery, London

Angus McBean (1904-1990) Quentin Crisp 1941 Bromide print National Portrait Gallery (London, UK) © Estate of Angus McBean / National Portrait Gallery, London

Keith Vaughan   Drawing of two men kissing   1958–73   Tate Archive   © DACS, The Estate of Keith Vaughan

Keith Vaughan Drawing of two men kissing 1958–73 Tate Archive © DACS, The Estate of Keith Vaughan

Many of the works that will be displayed were produced in a time when the terms ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘trans’ had little public recognition. The exhibition will illustrate the ways in which sexuality became publicly defined through the work of sexologists such as Henry Havelock Ellis, campaigners such as Edward Carpenter and will also look at the high profile trials of Oscar Wilde and Radclyffe Hall.

Objects on display will include the door from Wilde’s prison cell, Charles Buchel’s portrait of Radclyffe Hall and erotic drawings by Aubrey Beardsley.

Simeon Solomon 1840-1905  Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene   1864  Watercolour on paper   330 x 381 mm   Tate. Purchased 1980

Simeon Solomon 1840-1905 Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene 1864 Watercolour on paper 330 x 381 mm Tate. Purchased 1980

Laura Knight (1877-1970)  Self-Portrait  1913  Oil on canvas  152.4 x 127.6 cm  National Portrait Gallery (London, UK)

Laura Knight (1877-1970) Self-Portrait 1913 Oil on canvas 152.4 x 127.6 cm National Portrait Gallery (London, UK)

In contrast to the bleak outlook from the courtroom prior to 1967, queer culture was embraced by the British public in the form of theatre. From music hall acts to costume design, British theatre provided a forum in which sexuality and gender expression could be openly explored.

Striking examples on display will include photographs of performers such as Beatrix Lehmann, Berto Parsuka and Robert Helpmann by Angus McBean, who was jailed for his sexuality in 1942, alongside stage designs by Oliver Messel and Edward Burra.

Theatrical cards of music hall performers such as Vesta Tilley (whose act as ‘Burlington Bertie’ had a large lesbian following) will also be featured, as well as a pink wig worn in Jimmy Slater’s act ‘A Perfect Lady’ from the 1920s.

Queer British Art 1861-1967 will take place at Tate Britain from 5 April until 1 October 2017.

All images courtesy of Tate | Main image: Duncan Grant Bathing 1911 Oil paint on canvas 2286 x 3061 mm © Tate

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Author: Katy Cowan

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