Queer British Art: The first exhibition dedicated to LGBTQ art at Tate Britain

in Inspiration / Art

It’s saddening to realise that homosexuality was only "partially" decriminalised in the UK 50 years ago; and perhaps more so to consider that we’re still seeing homophobia today. But queer identities aren’t about legislation, or politics: they’re about a sense of self and an expression of sexuality, and individual experience. Just as we wouldn’t societally sweep a broad brushstroke over what "heterosexual identity" means, we shouldn’t do the same with LGBTQ ones either.

Such rich and varied selves and identities are superbly expressed through creativity, as a forthcoming show at London’s Tate Britain gallery proves. The exhibition Queer British Art 1861 - 1967 is to display artworks created from the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy in 1861 to the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967. This near century-long period was a time that saw many radical shifts in how artists and non-artists alike viewed and presented gender and sexuality, and it’s easy for us today to forget just how risky it was to be gay 100 years ago, how maligned queerness was in years gone by.

The exhibition will feature work by artists including David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Keith Vaughan, Evelyn de Morgan, Gluck, Glyn Philpot, Claude Cahun and Cecil Beaton alongside erotic drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, queer ephemera including the door from Oscar Wilde’s prison cell, personal photographs, films and publications.

One room of the space will be devoted to the famously Bohemian and sexually open artist coterie the Bloomsbury set, featuring paintings of various members and their lovers and commissions by artists including Duncan Grant and Ethel Walker. Elsewhere, we’ll see examples of Pre-Raphaelite works that hint at coded desires, and the swinging nature of Soho in the 1960s.

"Spanning the playful to the political, the explicit to the domestic, Queer British Art 1861-1967 will showcase the rich diversity of queer visual art and its role in society," says Tate Britain. "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…

"Queer British Art 1861-1967 will show how artists and audiences challenged the established views of sexuality and gender identity between two legal landmarks. Some of the works in the show are intensely personal while others spoke to a wider public, helping to forge a sense of community."

The exhibition runs from 5 April – 1 October 2017.

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

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

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

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)

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