Posts Tagged ‘John Deakin

24
Sep
17

Review: ‘Queer British Art 1861-1967’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 5th April – 1st October 2017

Curators: Clare Barlow, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain with Amy Concannon, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain

 

 

Queer British Art book cover

 

Queer British Art 1861-1967 book cover

 

 

 

Very Pauline

Queer British Art 1861-1967 at Tate Britain examines the “historical reality of same-sex relationships and non-normative sexual identities” from 1861, the year for the end of the death penalty for sodomy in Great Britain, through to 1967 which is when sex between consenting adults in private, obviously male homosexuality is partially decriminalised in England and Wales. The timescale of the exhibition encompasses the beginning of a more considered understanding of gender and sexual identity through to the beginnings of a limited freedom: from repression to liberation.

For a man who came out in London in 1975, only 8 short years after the decriminalisation of homosexuality, this exhibition should have been more engaging than it was. While there were some outstanding art works and artefacts presented in the eight rooms of the exhibition, chronologically laid out in the posting below – such as the prison door from Oscar Wilde’s cell at Reading Gaol, Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell’s book covers, the paintings of Henry Scott Tuke and the photography of Angus McBean – there was little of the passion of being gay in evidence in much of the objects, or how they were presented. It all seemed so very academic, and not in a good way. Other than some stunning erotic drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, Duncan Grant and Keith Vaughan (see below) there was little to suggest that being gay had anything to do with sex, the exhibition living up to that very British of axiom’s, “No sex please, we’re British!” The curators may have thought that sex would be a distraction, for it was all ‘very Pauline’.

The exhibition is full of innuendo, supposition, obfuscation, abstinence, hints, traces, clouded desires and supposed longings – in both the art work and the wall texts which accompanied the work. Of course, this is how artists had to hide their sexuality, same-sex desires and relationships during much of this period for fear of ostracisation from society and possible prosecution, but the presentation came across as little more than “au fait”, so much matter of fact. The exhibition was not helped by illuminating texts such as this: “The exact nature of Thomas and Philpot’s relationship is unknown. Many of Philpot’s depictions of Thomas carry a homoerotic charge and some are exoticising. What Thomas felt about his years with Philpot from 1929 to the artist’s death in 1937 is unknown.” Ugh!

You might as well have said nothing, and let the art work speak for itself.

Other commentaries could have done with a more insightful enunciation of the circumstances of the particular artist, in addition to text on the specific art work. A perceptive anointing of their life would have added invaluably to the frisson of the exhibition. For example, I wanted to know why the painter Christopher Wood died at the young age of 29 as well as the specifics of his painting Nude Boy in a Bedroom (1930, below). According to Wikipedia, Wood – bisexual, addicted to opium and painting frenetically in preparation for his Wertheim exhibition in London – became psychotic and jumped under a train at Salisbury railway station. These are the things that you need to know if you are to fully appreciate the gravitas of a life and a person’s relationship to their art, don’t you think?

Further, no pictures were allowed in the gallery spaces. Whereas I could take photographs of the Rachel Whiteread exhibition at the same venue to my heart’s content (even after being confronted by a guard who said I couldn’t, who was then corrected by a colleague with no apology for his attitude to me), I had to play a Machiavellian game of cunning hide and seek with guards and attendants to get the installation photographs of this exhibition. Why was this so? It almost seemed to be a case of the gallery being ashamed of the art they were exhibiting, as though the attitudes of the past towards art that explores same-sex relationships was being replicated by the duplicity of the gallery itself: the art could be seen but not heard, hidden away in the bowls of an academic institution. I also noted that one of 19 collages that Kenneth Halliwell exhibited at the Anno Domino gallery in 1967 (see below) was purchased by the Tate in 2016. Considering “the exhibition was a failure and Halliwell’s professional frustration contributed to the breakdown of his relationship with Orton,” eventuating the murder of the playwright and his own suicide… for some of those very same works to now reside at the Tate is the ultimate irony. I doubt Halliwell would have been laughing in his grave.

The stand out works in this exhibition were by Duncan Grant and Keith Vaughan. Their work explores the strength and beauty of the male form with a vitality of purpose and harmony of composition that was succinct and illuminating for this viewer. Grant’s Bathing (1911, below) ascribes anthropomorphic qualities to distorted figures whose elongated arms, distended chests and exposed buttocks would have been shocking to the people of Belle Epoque Britain. His erotic drawings (below) were the most beautiful, sensitive and sensual art works in the whole exhibition. Vaughan’s simplification of the figuration of the male form into abstract shapes, whilst still retaining the enigma of sensuality, narrative and context, are the triumph of this inverts painting. Their patterning and displacement of time and space onto an intimate other – a copious, coital realm of existence full of feeling, information and matter – were a revelation to me.

While the exhibition enunciates a remarkable range of identities and stories, from the playful to the political and from the erotic to the domestic, it was a deflating experience. I came away thankful that I had seen the work, that the artist’s had been able to express themselves however surreptitiously, but angry that so much of the world still sees LGBTQI people as second class citizens whose art work has to be examined through the prism of sexuality, rather than on the quality of the work itself.

Marcus

PS. How you can classify Claude Cahun as a British artist I will never know: she lived on the Channel Islands for a few years, but she was the very epitome of a French artist!

.
Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. All installation images are by Dr Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Featuring works from 1861-1967 relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) identities, the show marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England. Queer British Art explores how artists expressed themselves in a time when established assumptions about gender and sexuality were being questioned and transformed.

Deeply personal and intimate works are presented alongside pieces aimed at a wider public, which helped to forge a sense of community when modern terminology of ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘trans’ were unrecognised. Together, they reveal a remarkable range of identities and stories, from the playful to the political and from the erotic to the domestic. With paintings, drawings, personal photographs and film from artists such as John Singer Sargent, Dora Carrington, Duncan Grant and David Hockney the diversity of queer British art is celebrated as never before.

 

 

“Much more fucking and they’ll be screaming hysterics in next to no time.”

.
Joe Orton

 

“For me, to use the word ‘queer’ is a liberation; it was a word that frightened me, but no longer.”

.
Derek Jarman

 

“It’s really interesting as to whether or not we should be concerned with the sexuality of an artist when we consider the merits of his artwork, because really what he does behind closed doors – or she does – has nothing to do, or shouldn’t have anything to do with the impact of the artwork as we see it. But what is important is the artist can use that material of their personal life and create a work that is almost a personal diary but visually.”

.
Estelle Lovatt

 

 

Room 1: Coded Desires

In spite of the Victorian era’s prudish reputation, there are many possible traces of transgressive desire in its art – in Frederic Leighton’s sensuous male nudes, for instance, or Evelyn De Morgan’s depictions of Jane Hales. Simeon Solomon attracted sustained criticisms of ‘unwholesomeness’ or ‘effeminacy’ – terms which suggest disapproval of alternative forms of masculinity as much as same sex desire. Yet other works which might look queer to us passed without comment.

The death penalty for sodomy was abolished in 1861 but it was still punishable with imprisonment. Sex between women was not illegal and society sometimes tolerated such relationships. Yet for most people, there seems to have been little sense that certain sexual practices or forms of gender expression reflected a core aspect of the self. Instead, this was a world of fluid possibilities.

These ambiguities offered scope for artists to produce work that was open to homoerotic interpretation. Queer subcultures developed: new scholarship on same-sex desire in Renaissance Italy and ancient Greece allowed artists to use these civilisations as reference points, while the beautiful youths in Wilhelm von Gloeden’s photographs attracted communities of collectors. As long as there was no public suggestion that artists had acted on their desires, there was much that could be explored and expressed.

 

Installation view of Room 1 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

Installation view of Room 1 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 1 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain with Frederic Leighton’s The Sluggard (1885, bronze) in the middle of the room

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene' 1864

 

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

 

 

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene is a touching image of female love. The piece is inspired by fragmented poems written by a woman named Sappho in the 4th century BC, in which she pleads that Aphrodite help her in her same-sex relationship. The term ‘lesbian’ derives directly from this poet, as her homeland was the Greek Island of Lesbos. Sappho’s story points to a longer history of same-sex desire. It’s perhaps for this reason that Simeon Solomon, a man who was attracted to men in defiance of the law, painted her. While a depiction of two men kissing would have been completely taboo, this is a passionate depiction of same-sex desire.

Solomon’s own sexual preferences eventually lead to his incarceration. When he was released from prison he was rejected by many of his acquaintances, struggled to find work and soon became homeless; a painful reminder of our repressive past. (Website text)

This strikingly frank image shows the ancient Greek poet Sappho in a passionate embrace with her fellow poet Erinna. Sappho is associated with the Island of Lesbos and her story gives us the word ‘lesbian’. There was a surge of interest in Sappho’s achievements and desires from the 1840s onwards. Solomon may be responding to his friend Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poem Anactoria which includes Erinna amongst Sappho’s lovers. While female same-sex desire was considered more acceptable than its male equivalent, Solomon’s depiction of Sappho’s fervent kiss and Erinna’s swooning response is unusually explicit and the image was not publicly exhibited. (Wall text)

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'The Bride, Bridegroom and Sad Love' 1865

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
The Bride, Bridegroom and Sad Love
1865
Ink on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This work was inspired by a passage from the Gospel of St John which tells how ‘the friend of the bridegroom… rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice’. In Solomon’s drawing, the friend of the bridegroom has the wings of love but his downcast expression identifies him as ‘sad love’, forever excluded. The positioning of his and the bridegroom’s hands hints at the reason for his grief, implying that that they are former sexual partners. He is forced to look on as his lover enters a heterosexual marriage: a fate shared by many men in same-sex relationships in this period. (Wall text)

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'Bacchus' 1867

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
Bacchus
1867
Oil paint on paper on canvas
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

The classical god of wine, Bacchus also embodies sexual ambiguity and gender fluidity. While grapes and vine leaves identify the god in Solomon’s painting, Bacchus’s full lips, luxuriant hair and enigmatic gaze hint at his elusive sexuality. When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1867, the critic of The Art Journal thought the figure looked effeminate, commenting ‘Bacchus is a sentimentalist of rather weak constitution; he drinks mead, possibly sugar and water, certainly not wine’. Solomon’s friend, critic Walter Pater wrote a favourable essay about the painting and poet Algernon Charles Swinburne said he found in Solomon and Bacchus alike, ‘the stamp of sorrow; of perplexities unsolved and desires unsatisfied’. (Wall text)

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'The Moon and Sleep' 1894

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
The Moon and Sleep
1894
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Presented by Miss Margery Abrahams in memory of Dr Bertram L. Abrahams and Jane Abrahams 1973

 

 

Made a few years after Solomon’s arrest and social ostracisation, this painting depicts the love of the moon goddess Selene for Endymion, who, in one version of the myth, is given eternal youth and eternal sleep by Zeus. While it ostensibly depicts a heterosexual pairing, the striking similarity of the profiles of the figures in Solomon’s painting gives them both an air of androgyny. This painting was given to Tate by a descendent of Rachel Simmons, Solomon’s first cousin, who helped to support him after his fall from public favour by regularly buying his works for small sums of money. (Wall text)

 

Photographer unknown. 'John Addington Symonds' (installation view) c. 1850s

 

Photographer unknown
John Addington Symonds (installation view)
c. 1850s
Photograph, tinted collodion on paper

 

 

John Addington Symonds was a writer, critic and an early campaigner for greater tolerance of same-sex desire. This photograph probably dates from Symonds’s time at Oxford University (1858-1863). His studies informed his later essay, A Problem in Greek Ethics 1873, one of the earliest attempts at a history of male same-sex desire. Symonds frankly discussed his desires in his diaries and unpublished writings, which he believed would be ‘useful to society’. However, when his friend Edmund Gosse inherited Symonds’s papers in 1926, he burned them all apart from Symonds’s autobiography. This destruction nauseated Symonds’s granddaughter Janet Vaughan. It was not until 1984 that Symonds’s autobiography was finally published. (Wall text)

 

Sidney Harold Meteyard (1868-1947) 'Hope Comforting Love in Bondage' Exhibited 1901

 

Sidney Harold Meteyard (1868-1947)
Hope Comforting Love in Bondage
Exhibited 1901
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

Hope is depicted as a respectably fully-clothed matron, whereas Love’s only costume is his elaborate cloth bindings and the rose briars that are delicately threaded through the feathers of his wings. The flowers and thorns of the roses hint at pleasures and pains combined. Love’s pensive expression and androgynous beauty is reminiscent of the work of Simeon Solomon and, while Hope stretches out her hand to comfort him, his gaze is fixed elsewhere, leaving the object of his affections undefined. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Frederic Leighton's 'Daedalus and Icarus' 1896

 

Installation view of Frederic Leighton’s Daedalus and Icarus 1896 from the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) 'Daedalus and Icarus' Exhibited 1869

 

Frederic Leighton (1830-1896)
Daedalus and Icarus
Exhibited 1869
Oil paint on canvas
Private collection

 

 

In a story from the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Daedalus made wings for his son Icarus to escape from Rhodes. Icarus’s golden beauty is here contrasted with his weather-beaten father. When the work was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1869, The Times anxiously remarked that Icarus had the air of ‘a maiden rather than a youth’ and exhibited ‘the soft rounded contour of a feminine breast’. This response may reflect increasing concern amongst educated circles about the pairings of older men and adolescent youths in books such as Plato’s Symposium, as new scholarship explored the eroticism of the original texts. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Henry Scott Tuke's 'A Bathing Group' 1914

 

Installation view of Henry Scott Tuke’s A Bathing Group 1914 from the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929) 'A Bathing Group' 1914

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929)
A Bathing Group
1914
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by the Royal Academy of Arts, London

 

 

While Henry Scott Tuke used the professional model Nicola Lucciani for this painting, it is similar to his images of Cornish youths in its frank appreciation of the male nude. Lucciani’s torso is illuminated by a shaft of sunlight and he looks towards the second figure, who crouches as if in awe of his godlike beauty. Tuke presented the painting to the Royal Academy on his election as a member. Tuke used professional models when he first moved to Cornwall, but he soon befriended some of the local fishermen and swimmers in Falmouth who modelled for him in many paintings. (Wall text)

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929) 'The Critics' 1927

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929)
The Critics
1927
Oil paint on board
Courtesy of Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum (Warwick District Council)

 

 

Made just two years before Tuke’s death, The Critics is one of a number of works by Henry Scott Tuke depicting young men bathing off the Cornish coast. There has been much speculation about his relationships with his Cornish models although nothing has been substantiated. It is, however, not difficult to find a homoerotic undercurrent in this painting, as the two men on the shore appraise the swimming technique – and possibly the physique – of the youth in the water. Writer John Addington Symonds was a frequent visitor and he encouraged Tuke in his painting of male nudes in a natural outdoor setting. (Wall text)

 

Room 2: Public Indecency

This room looks at ways in which sexuality and gender identity did – and did not – go public, from the 1880s to the 1920s. Public debate over sexuality and gender identity was stirred up by scandals, campaigns and scientific studies. The trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895 for gross indecency and Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness in 1928 for supposed obscenity put a spotlight on same-sex desire. In the field of science, the project of classifying sexual practices and forms of gender presentation into distinct identities, which had been begun by German psychiatrists such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing, reached Britain through the work of Havelock Ellis who co-authored his book Sexual Inversion 1896 with John Addington Symonds. However, change was slow, and many people remained unaware of new terminologies and approaches to the self that this new science offered.

 

Installation view of Henry Bishop's 'Henry Havelock Ellis' 1890s

 

Installation view of Henry Bishop’s Henry Havelock Ellis from the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Henry Bishop (1868-1939) 'Henry Havelock Ellis' 1890s

 

Henry Bishop (1868-1939)
Henry Havelock Ellis
1890s
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London. Bequeathed by François Lafitte, 2003

 

 

The sexologist Henry Havelock Ellis’s great work Sexual Inversion, co-authored with John Addington Symonds, defined queer sexualities in Britain for a generation. Published in English in 1897, it drew on the experiences of people such as Edward Carpenter (whose portrait hangs nearby). It was effectively banned in Britain after the prosecution of a bookseller, George Bedborough. This informal portrait was probably made around the time of Bedborough’s trial. It depicts Ellis sitting in a deckchair in Henry Bishop’s studio in St Ives. There is some evidence Bishop was attracted to men and Ellis’s non-judgemental attitudes may have encouraged Bishop to make his acquaintance. He became a lifelong friend. (Wall text)

 

Edmund Dulac (1882-1953) 'Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon as Medieval Saints' 1920

 

Edmund Dulac (1882-1953)
Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon as Medieval Saints
1920
Tempera on linen over board
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

 

 

Oscar Wilde described the home of the artist and designer Charles Ricketts and his lifelong partner the painter Charles Shannon as ‘the one house in London where you will never be bored’. Here, the couple are playfully depicted by their friend Edmund Dulac in the robes of Dominican friars. These robes possibly hint at the permanence of their bond: monastic vows were, after all, intended to mark entry for life into an all-male community. The peacock feather in Rickett’s hand signals their devotion to aestheticism, an art movement dedicated to beauty and ‘art for art’s sake’. By the 1920s, this was an emblem of a previous era. (Wall text)

 

Charles Buchel (1872-1950) 'Radclyffe Hall' (installation view) 1918

 

Charles Buchel (1872-1950)
Radclyffe Hall (installation view)
1918
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London. Bequeathed by Una Elena Vincenzo (née Taylor), Lady Troubridge, 1963

 

 

Born ‘Marguerite’ Radclyffe Hall and known as ‘John’ to close friends, Radclyffe Hall was a key figure in provoking debate on female same-sex desire. This portrait was made ten years before Hall found fame as the author of The Well of Loneliness 1928. Despite the pleas of literary figures, including Virginia Woolf, this novel was effectively banned on the grounds of obscenity for its frank depiction of female same-sex desire. It was semi-autobiographical and was influenced by Havelock Ellis’s Sexual Inversion. Hall’s sober jacket, skirt, cravat and monocle in this image reflected contemporary female fashions for a more masculine style of dress. After the trial, Hall’s clothes and cropped hair became associated with lesbianism and this portrait has become a queer icon. It was given to the National Portrait Gallery by Hall’s lover, Una Troubridge. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Room 2 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

Installation view of Room 2 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 2 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain with Oscar Wilde’s Prison Door c. 1883

 

 

This is the door of Oscar Wilde’s prison cell at Reading Gaol. Wilde spent three months of his incarceration writing a tortured letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. This was later published as De Profundis (‘from the depths’). Wilde was not allowed to send the letter, although the manuscript was given back to him when he left prison. He told his friend Robert Ross, ‘I know that on the day of my release I will merely be moving from one prison into another, and there are times when the whole world seems to be no larger than my cell, and as full of terror for me’. (Wall text)

 

Robert Goodloe Harper Pennington. 'Oscar Wilde' c. 1881

 

Robert Goodloe Harper Pennington
Oscar Wilde
c. 1881
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles, California

 

 

The American artist Harper Pennington gave this portrait to Wilde and his wife Constance as a wedding present in 1884. It captures Wilde as a young man aged 27, on the cusp of success and it hung in Wilde’s home in Tite Street, Chelsea, London. While awaiting trial, Wilde was declared bankrupt and all his possessions, including this portrait, were sold at public auction to pay his debts. Few objects from his extensive collection have been traced. This painting was bought by Wilde’s friend Ada Leverson and it was kept in storage. Wilde told a friend that Ada’s husband ‘could not have it in his drawing-room as it was obviously, on account of its subject, demoralising to young men, and possibly to young women of advanced views’. (Wall text)

 

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) 'Enter Herodias from 'Salome' by Oscar Wilde' 1890s

 

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)
Enter Herodias from ‘Salome’ by Oscar Wilde
1890s
Photo-process print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Here Herodias, Salome’s mother makes a dramatic entrance, bare-breasted and positioned at the centre of the composition. The grotesque figure on the left plucks at her cloak, his robe barely concealing his giant phallus, while the slender page appears notably unmoved. They seem to epitomise two forms of masculinity: the grotesquely heterosexual and the elegantly ambiguous. Oscar Wilde is satirised as the showman-like jester in the foreground. (Wall text)

 

Cecil Beaton. 'Cecil Beaton and his Friends' 1927

 

Cecil Beaton (1904-1980)
Cecil Beaton and his Friends
1927
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London. Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 1991

 

 

This photograph was taken at Wilsford Manor in Wiltshire, Stephen Tennant’s childhood home. The party depicted here includes Tennant, artist Rex Whistler, society hostess Zita Jungman and Beaton himself, although their elaborate fancy dress and make-up makes it hard to tell them apart. The poet Siegfried Sassoon, Tennant’s lover at this time, wrote in his diary, ‘It was very amusing, and they were painted up to the eyes, but I didn’t quite like it’. (Wall text)

 

Room 3: Theatrical Types

The use of ‘theatrical’ as a euphemism for queer hints at the rich culture on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century stage. The extent to which audiences were aware of this varied. Music hall male and female ‘impersonation acts’ were wildly popular but were mostly seen as innocent ‘family fun’. In the formal theatre, plays for public production had to be passed by the Lord Chamberlain’s office. While some directors found ways to avoid censorship, there were few positive and explicit depictions of queer lives and experience. Many celebrities who were in same-sex relationships understandably tried to keep their lives from public view, although their desires were often open secrets. Nevertheless, whether as the subject of a moralistic ‘problem’ play or an innuendo in a saucy song, queer perspectives could find public expression on the stage.

 

Installation view of Room 3 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation view of Room 3 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Unknown photographer, published by The Philco Publishing Company. 'Hetty King (Winifred Ems)' 1910s

 

Unknown photographer, published by The Philco Publishing Company
Hetty King (Winifred Ems)
1910s
National Portrait Gallery

 

 

Angus McBean

Angus McBean’s career was forged in the theatre. Success came in 1936 with his photographs of Max Beerbohm’s The Happy Hypocrite 1896, starring Ivor Novello. In a break with convention, McBean’s close-up images were well lit with studio lights and staged as intimate tableaux. Inspired by the International Surrealist exhibitions of 1936 and 1937, he began to make playful ‘surrealised portraits’, which were initially published in The Sketch. These used complex props and staging to create fantastical scenes and to give the illusion of distorted scale.

The images here all depict sitters who were in same-sex relationships. McBean’s own relationships with men led to a police raid on his house and his arrest in 1942 for criminal acts of homosexuality. He was convicted and sentenced to four years in jail but was released in 1944 and quickly reestablished his reputation as a photographer.

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990) 'Sir Robert Murray Helpmann' 1950

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990)
Sir Robert Murray Helpmann
1950
Photograph, bromide print on paper
© Estate of Angus McBean / National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

McBean’s portrait of Robert Helpmann, published in The Tatler and Bystander on 28 April 1948, shows him in the role of Hamlet, which he was then playing at Stratford-upon-Avon. The production was designed to be Victorian gothic: an Elsinore of guttering candles and chiaroscuro lighting effects. There is perhaps some suggestion of this in the heavy shadows of McBean’s photograph, while Helpmann’s dramatic make-up emphasises his melancholic expression. The backdrop was created from a blown-up photograph of text from the First Folio of the play. In defiance of the law, Helpmann lived comparatively openly with his partner, the theatre director Michael Benthall. Their relationship lasted from 1938 until Benthall’s death, in 1974. (Wall text)

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990) 'Danny La Rue' 1968

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990)
Danny La Rue
1968
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Born Danny Carroll, Danny La Rue was one of the greatest stars in female impersonation. La Rue first performed while in the navy during the Second World War and later toured with all male revues such as Forces in Petticoats before becoming a cabaret star. La Rue’s glamorous appearance on stage, captured here, was undercut by the gruff ‘wotcher mates’, with which he opened his set. La Rue preferred the term ‘comic in a frock’ to ‘female impersonator’ and described his act as ‘playing a woman knowing that everyone knows it’s a fella’. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Glen Byam Shaw as 'Laertes'' 1934-5

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Glen Byam Shaw as ‘Laertes’
1934-5
Oil paint on canvas
Kindly lent by the sitter’s grandson, Charles Hart

 

 

The actor Glen Byam Shaw is depicted here as Laertes in John Gielgud’s 1934 critically acclaimed production of Hamlet in a costume designed by Motley: Elizabeth Montgomery, Margaret Percy and Sophie Harris. Glyn Philpot cut down the original three-quarter length portrait after it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1935. This reduction puts even greater focus on Byam Shaw’s face and heavy stage make-up. While the image is typical of productions of the period, the medium of the portrait removes it from its original theatrical context. Coupled with Byam Shaw’s arch expression, the overriding impression is one of high camp. Byam Shaw had almost certainly been the lover of the poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) and may have met Philpot through Sassoon. (Wall text)

 

Francis Goodman (1913-1989) 'Oliver Messel' 1945

 

Francis Goodman (1913-1989)
Oliver Messel
1945
Photograph, silver gelatin print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London. Bequeathed by the estate of Francis Goodman, 1989

 

 

Francis Goodman’s carefully posed photograph depicts Oliver Messel, the foremost British stage designer from the 1920s to the 1950s, surrounded by eclectic props. The producer Charles Cochran recalled how Messel ‘would pull something new out of his pocket – usually something used for domestic work – which he proposed to employ to give the illusion of some other fabric’. Messel was attracted to men and his fascination with dandyish excess, pastiche and artifice has been interpreted as a queer aesthetic. (Wall text)

 

Paul Tanqueray (1905-1991) 'Douglas Byng' 1934

 

Paul Tanqueray (1905-1991)
Douglas Byng
1934
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery. Given by Paul Tanqueray, 1974

 

 

Gay performer Douglas Byng gained the title ‘The Highest Priest of Camp’ with songs such as ‘Doris the Goddess of Wind’, ‘I’m a Mummy (An Old Egyptian Queen)’ and ‘Cabaret Boys’, which he performed with Lance Lester. Coward described him as ‘The most refined vulgarity in London, mais quel artiste!’ Byng’s costume in Paul Tanqueray’s photograph was probably the one he wore for his song ‘Wintertime’. (Wall text)

 

Room 4: Bloomsbury and Beyond

The Bloomsbury Group of artists and writers famously ‘lived in squares and loved in triangles’. Dora Carrington had relationships with men and women but loved and was loved by Lytton Strachey, who was attracted to men. Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell lived together in Charleston Farmhouse in East Sussex. A chosen few of Duncan Grant’s male lovers made visits but Paul Roche was forced to camp on the South Downs as he did not meet with Bell’s approval. Bell’s husband Clive lived apart from her but they remained happily married. While sexual intimacy was valued by the Group, it was not the most important bond tying the members together. Their network was a profoundly queer experiment in modern living founded on radical honesty and mutual support.

Bloomsbury’s matter-of-fact acceptance of same-sex desire was unusual but not unique. The objects in this room show a variety of different perspectives, from the quiet homeliness of Ethel Sands’s Tea with Sickert, to Gluck’s defiant self-portrait. Together, they reveal a generation of artists and sitters exploring, confronting and coming to terms with themselves and their desires.

 

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain featuring Ethel Walker’s Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa 1920

 

Ethel Walker (1861-1951) 'Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa' 1920

 

Ethel Walker (1861-1951)
Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa
1920
Oil paint on canvas

 

 

The composition of this painting reveals Ethel Walker’s fascination with Greco-Roman friezes, as well as the artistic possibilities of the female nude. The painting is inspired by Book IV of Homer’s Odyssey, in which the princess Nausicaa bathes with her maidens. In 1900, Walker became the first woman member of the New English Arts Club, whose select committee reacted to this painting with ‘spontaneous and enthusiastic applause’. There has been some speculation about the nature of Walker’s relationship with painter Clara Christian, with whom she lived and worked in the 1880s, although little evidence survives. This image offers a utopian vision of an all-female community. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain featuring Duncan Grant’s Bathing 1911 (at left in the bottom image)

 

Duncan Grant. 'Bathing' 1911

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Bathing
1911
Oil paint on canvas
2286 x 3061 mm
© Tate. Purchased 1931

 

 

Bathing was conceived as part of a decorative scheme for the dining room at Borough Polytechnic, and it was Duncan Grant’s first painting to receive widespread public attention. Grant’s design takes inspiration from summers spent around the Serpentine in Hyde Park, which was one of a number of sites associated with London’s queer culture. The painting celebrates the strength and beauty of the male form, and its homoerotic implications were not lost on Grant’s contemporaries: the National Review described the dining room as a ‘nightmare’ which would have a ‘degenerative’ effect on the polytechnic’s working-class students. (Wall text)

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978) 'Bathers by the Pond' (installation view) 1920-21

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Bathers by the Pond (installation view)
1920-21
Oil paint on canvas
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council 1985)

 

 

This painting shows a scene filled with homoerotic possibilities. The setting is possibly Charleston Farmhouse in East Sussex, where Duncan Grant lived with Vanessa Bell, her children and his lover David (Bunny) Garnett. Grant’s use of dots of colour shows the influences of the pointillist technique pioneered by Georges Seurat. The nude figure in the foreground basks in the sun while the seated figures behind him exchange appreciative glances. Swimming ponds often served as cruising grounds and it is perhaps unsurprising that this work was not exhibited in Grant’s lifetime. (Wall text)

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978) 'Paul Roche Reclining' c. 1946

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Paul Roche Reclining (installation view)
c. 1946
Oil paint on canvas
The Charleston Trust

 

 

This painting depicts Duncan Grant’s close friend and possible lover Paul Roche, lying as if asleep. He is depicted against a patterned background reminiscent of colours and fabrics produced by the Omega Workshop, the design collective founded in 1913 by Roger Fry. These soft textures contrast with Roche’s bare torso, which is further emphasised by his briefs, socks and open shirt. Grant and Roche met by chance in July 1946: after making eye contact crossing the road at Piccadilly Circus, the two struck up a conversation. Their friendship lasted until Grant’s death in 1978. (Wall text)

 

Duncan Grant

Duncan Grant produced erotic works on paper prolifically throughout his life. These objects were created in private and for personal consumption only. Racially diverse figures are presented in various states of sexual play, and Grant’s range of representation moves from explicit passion to tender post- coital repose. Overlapping bodies are depicted in impossible contortions, and the works reveal Grant’s fascination with the artistic possibilities of the male form as well as the importance of harmonious composition. The objects also demonstrate a characteristically witty approach to sexuality, with some copulating figures playfully masquerading as ballet dancers and wrestlers. As his daughter Angelica Garnett recalled, one of Grant’s favourite maxims was to ‘never be ashamed’, and his private erotica offers an unapologetic celebration of gay male sex and love.

 

Installation view of erotic drawing by Duncan Grant

Installation view of erotic drawing by Duncan Grant

 

Installation views of erotic drawings by Duncan Grant

 

Installation view of Ethel Sands' 'Tea with Sickert' c. 1911-12

 

Installation view of Ethel Sands’ Tea with Sickert c. 1911-12 from Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Ethel Sands (1873-1962) 'Tea with Sickert' c. 1911-12

 

Ethel Sands (1873-1962)
Tea with Sickert
c. 1911-12
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Bequeathed by Colonel Christopher Sands 2000, accessioned 2001

 

 

The scene of this painting is the sitting room Nan Hudson and Sands’s home. Although it features two figures – the artist Walter Sickert and Hudson – the table is set for afternoon tea for three. The composition of the painting is arranged as if the artist was standing behind Nan, and this perspective highlights their position as a couple. In 1912, the work was exhibited as part of Sands and Hudson’s joint exhibition at the Carfax Gallery and it drew mixed reactions: Westminster Gazette called it ‘a daring picture’ but ‘a somewhat overwhelming indulgence in pure orange vermilion’. (Wall text)

 

Clare Atwood (1866-1962) 'John Gielgud's Room' 1933

 

Clare Atwood (1866-1962)
John Gielgud’s Room
1933
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Presented by Mrs E.L. Shute 1937

 

 

This picture was painted in Sir John Gielgud’s flat at the time he was playing Richard II in Gordon Daviot’s Richard of Bordeaux at the New Theatre. Rather than emphasising his life in the public eye, this work draws attention to Gieglud’s domestic life. In this way, Clare ‘Tony’ Atwood gently subverts traditional associations of the feminine with private space. Atwood lived in a menage a trois with Gielgud’s second-cousin, Edith (Edy) Craig and the feminist playwright Christopher St John, who had previously lived together as an openly lesbian couple. St John later stated that ‘the bond between Edy and me was strengthened not weakened by Tony’s association with us’. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Gluck's 'Self-Portrait' 1942

 

Installation view of Gluck’s Self-Portrait 1942 from Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein) 'Self-Portrait' 1942

 

Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein)
Self-Portrait
1942
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London
Given by the sitter and artist, ‘Gluck’ (Hannah Gluckstein), 1973

 

 

Gluck locks gazes with the viewer in this unflinching self-portrait. Born Hannah Gluckstein, Gluck requested that the name Gluck be reproduced with ‘no prefix, suffix or quotes’. Gluck exhibited to great acclaim at the ‘The Gluck Room’ of The Fine Art Society, where visitors included Queen Mary. This painting was painted in 1942, in a difficult period in Gluck’s relationship with Nesta Obermer, Gluck’s ‘darling wife’. Obermer was frequently away, sometimes with her husband Seymour Obermer. In 1944, their relationship broke down and Gluck went to live with Edith Shackleton Herald. Their relationship lasted until Gluck’s death. (Wall text)

 

Gluck (1895-1978) 'Lilac and Guelder Rose' 1932-7

 

Gluck (1895-1978)
Lilac and Guelder Rose
1932-7
Oil paint on canvas
Manchester Art Gallery

 

 

This was one of a number of flower paintings that Gluck made during and immediately after her relationship with society florist and author Constance Spry, who she met in 1932. Spry was a leading figure in cultivating a fashion for white flowers, and often used Gluck’s paintings to illustrate her articles. Many of Spry’s customers also commissioned flower paintings from Gluck. When Lilac and Guelder Rose was exhibited at Gluck’s 1937 exhibition at the Fine Art Society, it was much admired by Lord Villiers, who remarked ‘It’s gorgeous, I feel I could bury my face in it’. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Henry Thomas' (installation view) 1934-5

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Henry Thomas (installation view)
1934-5
Oil paint on canvas
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Bequeathed by Mrs Rosemary Newgas, the neice of the artist 2004)

 

 

Henry Thomas was Glyn Philpot’s servant and one of his favourite models. The high-cheekboned angularity of Thomas’s face is echoed in the diagonal lines of the abstracted background, perhaps an allusion to the batik fabric behind. The exact nature of Thomas and Philpot’s relationship is unknown. Many of Philpot’s depictions of Thomas carry a homoerotic charge and some are exoticising. What Thomas felt about his years with Philpot from 1929 to the artist’s death in 1937 is unknown. The words he wrote on Philpot’s funeral wreath, ‘For memory to my dear master as well as my father and brother to me’, hints at the imbalance between them, while also suggesting many complex layers of relationship. (Wall text)

 

Edward Wolfe (1897-1982) 'Portrait of Pat Nelson' 1930s

 

Edward Wolfe (1897-1982)
Portrait of Pat Nelson (installation view)
1930s
Oil paint on canvas
James O’Connor

 

 

Patrick Nelson emigrated from Jamaica to North Wales in 1937, before settling in London to study law the following year. While living in Bloomsbury, Nelson worked as an artists’ model and soon became acquainted with Edward Wolfe. Nelson would also meet other prominent gay artists at this time, including his sometime boyfriend and lifelong friend Duncan Grant. Wolfe’s depiction of Nelson against the rich green background is exoticising and his pose invites the viewer to admire his body. Such objectification was typical of many depictions of black men from this time and reflects an uneven power dynamic, although Nelson’s friendship with members of the Bloomsbury group adds a level of complexity to the relationship between artist and sitter. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Man with a Gun' (installation view) 1933

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Man with a Gun (installation view)
1933
Oil paint on canvas
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Bequeathed by Jeffrey Daniels, 1986

 

 

Glyn Philpot developed a strong reputation as a society portraitist until the 1930s, at which point he began to explore modernist forms, as well as express his sexuality more openly. This work depicts Philpot’s friend Jan Erland, who was the subject of a series of paintings by Philpot on the theme of sports and leisure. Erland is depicted cradling a gun which, he recalled, had been specifically borrowed for the occasion. Erland’s firm grip on the gun’s phallic barrel seems suggestive. Writing to his sister Daisy, Philpot described ‘every moment with this dear Jan’ as filled with ‘inspiration and beauty’. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Man with a Gun' 1933

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Man with a Gun
1933
Oil paint on canvas
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Bequeathed by Jeffrey Daniels, 1986

 

 

Tate Britain today opens the first exhibition dedicated to queer British art. Unveiling material that relates to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ+) identities, the show marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales. It presents 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, Queer British Art 1861-1967 showcases the rich diversity of queer visual art and its role in society. Themes explored in the exhibition 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 features 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.

Work from 1861 to 1967 by artists with diverse sexualities and gender identities is showcased, ranging 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 is a section focusing on the Bloomsbury set and their contemporaries – an artistic group famous for their bohemian attitude towards sexuality. The room includes 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.

Many of the works on display were produced in a time when the terms ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘trans’ had little public recognition. The exhibition illustrates the ways in which sexuality became publically defined through the work of sexologists such as Henry Havelock Ellis and campaigners such as Edward Carpenter. It also looks at the high profile trials of Oscar Wilde and Radclyffe Hall. Objects on display include the door from Wilde’s prison cell, Charles Buchel’s portrait of Radclyffe Hall and erotic drawings by Aubrey Beardsley.

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, the theatre provided a forum in which sexuality and gender expression could be openly explored. Striking examples on display include photographs of performers such as Beatrix Lehmann, Berto Pasuka 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) are featured, as well as a pink wig worn in Jimmy Slater’s act ‘A Perfect Lady’ from the 1920s.

Queer British Art 1861-1967 shows how artists and audiences challenged the established views of sexuality and gender identity between two legal landmarks. Some of the works in the show were intensely personal while others spoke to a wider public, helping to forge a sense of community. Alongside the exhibition is a room showing six films co-commissioned by Tate and Channel 4 Random Acts. Created in response to Queer British Art 1861-1967 and featuring figures in the LGBTQ+ community, including Sir Ian McKellen and Shon Faye, they present personal stories prompted by the themes in the show, and invite visitors to relate their own experiences.

Queer British Art 1861-1967 is curated by Clare Barlow, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain with Amy Concannon, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Britain

 

Why is the word ‘queer’ used in the exhibition title?

Queer has a mixed history – from the 19th century onwards it has been used both as a term of abuse and as a term by LGBT people to refer to themselves. Our inspiration for using it came from Derek Jarman who said that it used to frighten him but now ‘for me to use the word queer is a liberation’. More recently, of course, it has become reclaimed as a fluid term for people of different sexualities and gender identities. Historians of sexuality have also argued that it is preferable to other terms for sexualities in the past as these often don’t map onto modern sexual identities. In addition to carrying out audience research, we took advice from Stonewall and other LGBT charities and held focus groups with LGBT people. The advice from all of these sources was overwhelmingly that we should use it. While we tried other titles, no other option captured the full diversity of sexualities and gender identities that are represented in the show.

Text provided by Clare Barlow, curator of Queer British Art.

 

Installation view of Alvaro Guevara's 'Dame Edith Sitwell' 1916

 

Installation view of Alvaro Guevara’s Dame Edith Sitwell 1916 from Room 5 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Alvaro Guevara (1894-1951) 'Dame Edith Sitwell' 1916

 

Alvaro Guevara (1894-1951)
Dame Edith Sitwell
1916
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Presented by Lord Duveen, Walter Taylor and George Eumorfopoulos through the Art Fund 1920

 

 

The poet Edith Sitwell does not seem to have had sexual relationships but was viciously satirised by the artist and writer Wyndham Lewis as a lesbian. Sitwell described the life of the artist as ‘very Pauline’, referring to the letters of St Paul, which may suggest she thought sex would be a distraction. She was close friends with Alvaro Guevara, the artist of this portrait, who had relationships with men and women. Diana Holman Hunt in her 1974 biography of Guevara suggested that Sitwell and Guevara shared a love that was ‘not physical but certainly romantic and spiritual.’ The bright colours reflect the designs of Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell’s Omega Workshops and Sitwell is sitting on a dining chair designed by Fry. (Wall text)

 

Room 5: Defying Conventions

This room shows how artists and writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century challenged gender norms. Some, such as Laura Knight, laid claim to traditionally masculine sources of artistic authority by depicting themselves in the act of painting nude female models. Others, such as Vita Sackville-West, had open marriages and same-sex relationships, or, like Claude Cahun, questioned the very concept of gender binaries. This was a period of radical social change. Women took on new roles during the First and Second World Wars, and gained the vote in 1918. Sackville-West worked with the Land Girls. Cahun resisted the Nazis on Jersey and was sentenced to death, imprisoned for a year and only freed by the end of the war. New fashions developed. For women, wearing trousers in public became stylishly avant-garde. Expectations were changing. Public discussion about female same-sex desire offered ways of viewing the self, but it also brought problems. Lives that had previously passed without comment might now be labelled transgressive. But for some, this was a time of liberating possibilities.

 

Installation views of Room 5 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation view of Room 5 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain featuring with at left, Laura Knight’s Self-portrait 1913; second right, William Strang’s Lady with a Red Hat 1918, and at right Alvaro Guevara’s Dame Edith Sitwell 1916

 

Installation view of William Strang's 'Lady with a Red Hat' 1918

 

Installation view of William Strang’s Lady with a Red Hat 1918 from Room 5 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

William Strang. 'Lady with a Red Hat' 1918

 

William Strang (1859-1921)
Lady with a Red Hat
1918
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council
Purchased 1919

 

 

This portrait is of writer Vita Sackville-West. According to her son, Nigel Nicolson, she attended sittings with her lover Violet Trefusis. Sackville-West adopted a male persona, ‘Julian’, at some points in this relationship, allowing her and Trefusis to pose as a married couple so they could stay together at a boarding-house. Her fashionable dress in this image, however, gives no sign of such androgynous role-playing. The book in Sackville-West’s hand may refer to her book Poems of East and West 1917. At the time this was painted she was writing Challenge, a novel about her relationship with Trefusis, but this was not published until 1974. (Wall text)

 

Laura Knight (1877-1970) 'Self-portrait' 1913

 

Laura Knight (1877-1970)
Self-portrait
1913
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

When this painting was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1913, the reviewer Claude Phillips wrote ‘it repels, not by any special inconvenience – for it is harmless enough and with an element of sensuous attraction – but by dullness and something dangerously close to vulgarity’. His strong reaction hints at anxieties over women painting the female nude, which subverted the hierarchy of male artist and female model. When Laura Knight was at art school women were not been allowed to attend life classes. Her sensuous depiction of herself painting Ella Naper, a friend, lays claim to a professional artistic identity. In 1936, Knight was the first woman to become an Academician since its foundation. (Wall text)

 

Dorothy Johnstone (1892-1980) 'Rest Time in the Life Class' 1923

 

Dorothy Johnstone (1892-1980)
Rest Time in the Life Class
1923
Oil paint on canvas
City Art Centre, City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries

 

 

This image depicts the life-class Johnstone taught for women at Edinburgh College of Art, which Johnstone presents as a space of friendship and collaboration. In the foreground, one woman comments on another’s drawing while in the background, Johnstone depicts herself gesturing towards the canvas. Johnstone had an intense relationship with Cecile Walton and Walton’s husband Eric Robertson, who were also part of the Edinburgh Group of artists. She later married fellow artist David Macbeth Sutherland. (Wall text)

 

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Untitled' 1936

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Untitled' 1936

 

Claude Cahun (1894-1954)
Untitled
1936
2 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper

 

 

These images (to the left and right of I Extend My Arms), from a larger group of photographs, hint at different narrative possibilities for the sexless manikin. In one, the doll seems to take on a feminine air, posed as if delighting in the long hair that trails round its body. The other is less overtly gendered, wearing a hat made from an upright feather and holding aloft a tiny plant. The porcelain dolls’ heads outside the jar in one image are reminiscent of the masks that repeated occur in Cahun’s work and these images seem to hint at the themes of role-playing that Cahun explored in earlier self-portraits. (Wall text)

 

Room 6: Arcadia and Soho

London was a magnet for queer artists. In the 1950s and 1960s, Soho was the epicentre of queer culture, described by Francis Bacon as ‘the sexual gymnasium of the city’. Many of the artists shown in this room were friends, often living in London, sometimes sharing studios. Several were encouraged by the patron and collector Peter Watson, founder of the influential literary magazine Horizon and co-founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Their work was often inspired by travel: to the Mediterranean, to costal Brittany, or to the seedy American bars that inspired works such as Edward Burra’s Izzy Orts.

John Craxton, John Minton and Keith Vaughan have been described as ‘neo-romantics’. Craxton, however, preferred the term ‘Arcadian’, referencing a classical utopian vision of a harmonious wilderness, populated by innocent shepherds. Yet, while it is idealised, depictions of Arcadia still sometimes include references to death and its peace can be disrupted by undercurrents of desire.

 

Installation view of Christopher Wood's 'Nude Boy in a Bedroom' 1930

 

Installation view of Christopher Wood’s Nude Boy in a Bedroom 1930 from Room 6 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Christopher Wood (1901-1930) 'Nude Boy in a Bedroom' 1930

 

Christopher Wood (1901-1930)
Nude Boy in a Bedroom
1930
Oil paint on hardboard laid on plywood
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

 

 

Christopher Wood’s Nude Boy in a Bedroom depicts the artist’s friend and sometime lover Francis Rose, in a hotel room in Brittany where they stayed with a group of friends in 1930. The group was later joined by Wood’s mistress, Frosca Munster. According to Rose, the work ‘is a nude painting of me washing at a basin’ in which Wood ‘scattered playing cards on the bed’. The cards are tarot cards and the top card shows the Page of Cups reversed, symbolising anxiety about a deception that will be soon discovered, or referring to someone incapable of making commitments. Wood may have included these cards as an oblique reference to his ongoing relationships with his male lover and female mistress. (Wall text)

 

Edward Burra. 'Soldiers at Rye' 1941

 

Edward Burra (1905-1976)
Soldiers at Rye
1941
Tate
© Tate. Presented by Studio 1942

 

 

Edward Burra based Soldiers at Rye on sketches of troops around his home town of Rye between September and October 1940. His macabre sensibility was informed by his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. In the final stages of painting, he added red and yellow Venetian carnival masks, giving the figures the air of predatory birds – a regular symbol in Burra’s work from the 1930s. Seen from behind, the soldiers’ close-fitting uniforms and bulbous physiques led one critic to comment that they had the ‘bulging husky leathery shape’ of ‘military ruffians’. There is an ominous atmosphere to the painting, conveying a dangerous homoeroticism. (Wall text)

 

John Craxton (1922-2009) 'Head of a Cretan Sailor' 1946

 

John Craxton (1922-2009)
Head of a Cretan Sailor
1946
Oil paint on board
On loan from the London Borough of Camden Art Collection
© Estate of John Craxton. All rights reserved, DACS 2016
Photo credit: London Borough of Camden

 

 

The sitter in this portrait was on national service in the Greek Navy when he first met John Craxton in a taverna in Poros. He caught Craxton’s eye with his performance of the Greek dance the zeibékiko, with ‘splendidly controlled steps, clicking his thumbs and forefingers and circling round and round in his white uniform like a seagull’. Craxton followed him to Crete in 1947, where the sailor was now working as a butcher in Herákleion. The island was a revelation and Craxton returned often, eventually partly settling there in 1960. (Wall text)

 

 Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain with Robert Medley’s Summer Eclogue No. 1: Cyclists 1950 at left, Keith Vaughan’s Kouros 1960 second left, Keith Vaughan’s Three Figures 1960-1 second right, and his Bather: August 4th 1961 1961 at right

 

Robert Medley (1905-1994) 'Summer Eclogue No. 1: Cyclists' 1950

 

Robert Medley (1905-1994)
Summer Eclogue No. 1: Cyclists
1950
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1992

 

 

Exhibited at the Hanover Gallery in February 1950, Robert Medley’s painting of racing cyclists on a summer’s evening in a Gravesend public park underscores his attraction to cross-class sociability. The river esplanade offers a permissible space for observing the muscular bodies and taut limbs of the youths and their admirers. The title refers to Virgil’s Eclogues, in which pastoral tranquillity is disrupted by erotic forces and revolutionary change. Medley wrote in his autobiography that the eclogue theme provided for ‘a more contemporary subject matter’. One of the cyclists was modelled on fellow artist Keith Vaughan’s lover, Ramsay McClure. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Keith Vaughan's 'Kouros' 1960

 

Installation view of Keith Vaughan’s Kouros 1960 from Room 6 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Kouros' 1960

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Kouros
1960
Oil paint on canvas
Private collection

 

 

In a diary entry for 1956, Keith Vaughan wrote of ‘A silver bromide image of Johnny standing naked in my studio, aloof, slightly tense, withdrawn like a Greek Kouros, gazing apprehensively at himself in the mirror, lithe, beautiful…. it lies tormenting me on my table’. This was a photograph of Vaughan’s lover Johnny Walsh who is also represented in this painting. A ‘Kouros’ was a free-standing ancient Greek sculpture of a male youth and the image may also have been inspired by a visit Vaughan made to Greece in 1960. (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Three Figures' (installation view) 1960-1

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Three Figures (installation view)
1960-1
Oil paint on board

 

 

Three Figures is typical of Keith Vaughan’s approach to group figure painting. The subjects are depicted in indeterminate locations and the lack of details a makes it to impossible to identify them or guess at their social class or profession. The close proximity of the figures in this image and the contrast between the nudity of the man with his back towards us and the other two men might suggest that this is an erotic encounter. Yet the composition remains intentionally enigmatic. (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Bather: August 4th 1961' 1961

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Bather: August 4th 1961
1961
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1962

 

 

Keith Vaughan wrote in his journal, ‘The continual use of the male figure…retains always the stain of a homosexual conception… “K.V. paints nude young men”. Perfectly true, but I feel I must hide my head in shame. Inescapable, I suppose – social guilt of the invert’. He wrestled with the competing impulses of figuration and abstraction in his work, describing how: ‘I wanted to go beyond the specific, identifiable image – yet I did not want to do an “abstract” painting. Bather: August 4th 1961 was the first break through. Every attempt up to then had finally resolved itself into another figure painting or an “abstract”.’ (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan

In contrast over his concerns whether his desires would be shown in his paintings, Keith Vaughan’s private drawings are explicitly erotic. Across them he depicts a range of different encounters, from sadomasochistic fantasies through to moments of tender intimacy. This is perhaps a hint of these fluctuating desires in his descriptions of relationship with his lover Jonny Walsh, of which Vaughan said, ‘I can move from tenderness to sadism in the same harmonic key’.

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Drawing of two men kissing' 1958-73

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Drawing of two men kissing
1958-73
Tate Archive © DACS, The Estate of Keith Vaughan

 

 

Room 7: Public/Private Lives

This room explores the contradictions of queer life in the 1950s and 1960s. Before the partial decriminalisation of sex between men in 1967, the boundaries between public and private were acutely important to couples in same-sex relationships. Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell had separate beds in their tiny flat to maintain the pretence that they weren’t a couple. Such caution was justified. Peter Wildeblood, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and Michael Pitt-Rivers were sent to jail in a case that became a rallying point for calls to change the law, which was increasingly attacked as a ‘blackmailer’s charter’. Lesbianism was not illegal, but women faced prejudice. Avant-garde photographer Barbara Ker-Seymer was thrown out of her room after she left a copy of Radclyffe Hall’s banned book The Well of Loneliness out in plain sight.

Yet despite the threat of exposure, couples lived happily together, community flourished, and a few even became queer celebrities.

 

Stephen Tennant (1906-1986) 'Lascar, a story of the Maritime Boulevard' Nd

 

Stephen Tennant (1906-1986)
Lascar, a story of the Maritime Boulevard
Nd
Ink, watercolour and collage on paper
The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History, London

 

 

In this illustration for Stephen Tennant’s novel Lascar a riotous collage of burly sailors, bright flowers, letters and visiting cards seem to burst forth from the page. Some of Tennant’s initial sketches of sailors were made on visits to the Old Port of Marseilles in the 1930s, but he constantly reworked the illustrations and text, never completing it. In the last two decades of his life, visitors to Wilsford Manor in Wiltshire where Tennant lived in virtual seclusion, found pages of the novel strewn across the decaying interiors. (Wall text)

 

Because We’re Queers

Between 1959 and 1962, couple Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell borrowed and stole books from libraries around Islington. They cut out some of the illustrations, which they used to paper the walls of their flat and to create new collaged covers for the books. They then returned the volumes to the shelves of the libraries and waited to watch reactions.

The covers they created are full of jokes and references to queer culture. The addition of wrestling men turns Queen’s Favourite into an innuendo. Acting family the Lunts become kitsch glass figurines, while The Secret of Chimneys is depicted as a pair of giant cats. Others were more explicit: The World of Paul Slickey gains not only a phallic budgerigar but also a cut out shape of an erect penis. The plays of Emlyn Williams are retitled Knickers must fall and Fucked by Monty.

Orton and Halliwell were eventually caught and jailed for six months for ‘malicious damage’, which Orton claimed was ‘because we’re queers’. Prison destroyed Halliwell. While Orton became a successful playwright, Halliwell became an alcoholic. In 1967, he killed Orton and took his own life. Yet while their lives ended in tragedy, the bookcovers give insight into a playful and subversive relationship.

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. 'The Secret Chimneys by Agatha Christie'

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell
The Secret Chimneys by Agatha Christie
Islington Local History Centre

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. 'Queen's Favourite'

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell
Queen’s Favourite
Islington Local History Centre

 

Interior of the flat at 25 Noel Rd showing the extent of the collages

 

Interior of the flat at 25 Noel Rd showing the extent of the collages
Image courtesy of Islington Council

 

Kenneth Halliwell (1926-1967) 'Untitled' (installation view) 1967

 

Kenneth Halliwell (1926-1967)
Untitled (installation view)
1967
Printed papers on hardboard
Tate. Purchased 2016

 

 

This is one of 19 collages that Halliwell exhibited at the Anno Domino gallery in 1967. Unlike the earlier book-covers, these were made by Halliwell alone, yet they are similarly kaleidoscopic in their use of images. An archeological artefact here sits alongside fashion photography, sea-shells, insects and words from newspapers and magazines. Some of these juxtapositions are playful: ‘Eye’ appears where an eye would be. Others are more obscure and the phrases ‘Blackmail’ and ‘dirty word’ perhaps hint at oppression. The exhibition was a failure and Halliwell’s professional frustration contributed to the breakdown of his relationship with Orton, who was now established as a playwright. (Wall text)

 

George Elam. 'Joe Orton in Islington, London' 1967

 

George Elam
Joe Orton in Islington, London
1967
George Elam/Daily Mail/REX

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990) 'Quentin Crisp' 1941

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990)
Quentin Crisp
1941
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Angus McBean met the writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp while walking in the blackout in 1941 and the two became lovers. McBean later said of Crisp, ‘He was really one of the most beautiful people I have ever photographed. It was a completely androgynous beauty and under different circumstances it would have been difficult to know what sex he was’. This ambiguity is captured in McBean’s photograph, which is posed to emphasise Crisp’s long lashes, glossy lips and elaborate ring, the position of which is suggestive of an earring. Crisp’s refusal to conform to traditional masculine appearance was courageous and unswerving. (Wall text)

 

John Deakin (1912-1972) 'Colin' (installation view) c. 1950s

 

John Deakin (1912-1972)
Colin (installation view)
c. 1950s
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
John Deakin Archive / James Moores Collection

 

 

We don’t know anything about the sitter in this portrait. Deakin’s friend Bruce Bernard, who catalogued John Deakin’s negatives, likely gave it the label ‘Colin’, perhaps from memory, perhaps from an original sleeve note by Deakin. It is therefore not clear whether it depicts a drag performance or whether the glamorous outfit reflects the sitter’s true identity. It is, however, shot in a domestic setting rather than on the stage, leaving open the possibility that it depicts the sitter’s lived experience. (Wall text)

 

John Deakin

John Deakin seems almost to embody queer Soho of the 1950s. A close friend and drinking companion of Francis Bacon, his portrait photographs include many artists, actors, poets and celebrities. His style was often startlingly unflattering, capturing his sitters as they truly were. He said of his work, ‘Being fatally drawn to the human race, what I want to do when I take a photograph is make a revelation about it. So my sitters turn into my victims’. Deakin admitted to a drink problem which led to a chequered career and was twice sacked from Vogue. After his death, many of his photographic negatives were found in a box under his bed and were saved by his friend, writer and picture editor Bruce Bernard.

 

John Deakin (1912-1972) 'The Two Roberts Asleep - Colquhoun and MacBryde' c. 1953

 

John Deakin (1912-1972)
The Two Roberts Asleep – Colquhoun and MacBryde
c. 1953
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
John Deakin Archive / James Moores Collection

 

 

Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde are here shown asleep on each other shoulders in a moment of tender intimacy. They had met on their first day at Glasgow School of Art and became lovers and lifelong partners. This photograph was probably taken at Tilty Mill, the home of the writer Elizabeth Smart, who invited Colquhoun and MacBryde to live with her and her partner the poet George Barker, when they’d been evicted from their studio in London. They spent the next four years there, combining painting with helping to raise Smart and Barker’s four children. The edges of the image show evidence of fire damage from some forgotten occasion. (Wall text)

 

Barbara Ker-Seymer

Barbara Ker-Seymer was a photographer active in the interwar years. After studying at the Chelsea School of Art, she worked for the society portrait photographer Olivia Wyndham. When Wyndham moved to New York to be with her lover, the African-American actress Edna Lloyd-Thomas, Ker-Seymer was left in charge of her studio. She established her own studio on New Bond Street in 1931, and began a successful career as a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. She pursued relationships with both men and women, and was associated with the queer subculture known as the Bright Young Things. After the Second World War, she ceased to work as a photographer, opening a laundrette in 1951. Her papers, in Tate Archive, are full of playful images of her friends.

 

Barbara Ker-Seymer (1905-1993) 'Photograph album' (installation view) Nd

 

Barbara Ker-Seymer (1905-1993)
Photograph album (installation view)
Nd
Tate Archive

 

 

This creatively arranged spread in one of Ker-Seymer’s photograph albums shows images of a number of her friends, including Marty Mann, an American who was for a time Ker- Seymer’s business partner and lover. Mann’s drinking was increasingly a problem and their relationship floundered. She later became an important advocate for the newly formed ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’. (Wall text)

 

Room 8: Francis Bacon and David Hockney

The most fearless depictions of male same-sex desire in the years before 1967 are in the work of Francis Bacon and David Hockney. Bacon told how as a teenager his parents threw him out of their home for trying on his mother’s underwear. He gravitated to London, where he began his visceral exploration of the human figure. Hockney arrived in London in 1959 to study at the Royal College of Art. He was deeply impressed by Bacon’s 1960 exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery, commenting ‘you can smell the balls’, but his own style was more playful, experimenting with abstraction and graffiti.

Hockney and Bacon both drew heavily on the visual culture that surrounded them, from well-established artistic sources such as Eadweard Muybridge’s innovative photographs of wrestlers to cheap bodybuilding magazines. They were not alone in spotting the homoerotic potential of this material – artists such as Christopher Wood had already used the trope of wrestlers to hint at queer intimacy. Yet Hockney and Bacon went further, fearlessly stripping away ambiguities.

Their work was controversial. Bacon’s 1955 exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts was investigated by the police for obscenity while Hockney once described his early paintings as ‘homosexual propaganda’. They both continued to push the boundaries of what could be depicted in art, breaking new ground.

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 'Two Figures in a Landscape' (installation view) 1956

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Two Figures in a Landscape (installation view)
1956
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

Two Figures in a Landscape combines the homoerotic themes of the ‘crouching nude’ and ‘figures in the grass’ that Francis Bacon explored in multiple paintings throughout the 1950s. He was inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of wrestlers and athletes, along with Michelangelo’s drawings and sculpture. Bacon adapted these to explore his homosexuality with varying degrees of ambiguity. He later explained ‘Michelangelo and Muybridge are mixed up in my mind together’ and ‘I manipulate the Muybridge bodies into the form of the bodies I have known’. (Wall text)

 

Francis Bacon. 'Seated Figure' 1961

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Seated Figure
1961
Tate. Presented by J. Sainsbury Ltd 1961
© Estate of Francis Bacon

 

 

This image probably depicts Francis Bacon’s former lover Peter Lacy. Bacon was a masochist and Lacy once told him ‘you could live in a corner of my cottage on straw. You could sleep and shit there’. Lacy’s suit and the inclusion of domestic details such as the exotic rug and chair contrast with the tempestuous abstract backdrop, giving the image an air of suppressed violence. Bacon spoke of his treatment of sitters in his portraits as an ‘injury’ and once said ‘I hate a homely atmosphere. . . I want to isolate the image and take it away from the interior and the home’. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of David Hockney's 'Life Painting for a Diploma' 1962

 

Installation view of David Hockney’s Life Painting for a Diploma 1962 from Room 8 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

David Hockney (born 1937) 'Life Painting for a Diploma' 1962

 

David Hockney (born 1937)
Life Painting for a Diploma
1962
Oil paint, charcoal and collage on canvas
Yageo Foundation Collection, Taiwan

 

 

Life Painting for a Diploma formed part of David Hockney’s final submission at the Royal College of Art. The hanging skeleton displays Hockney’s skills as a draftsman but it is the well-toned bodybuilder who catches the viewer’s attention. Hockney’s gay American friend Mark Berger introduced him to ‘beefcake’ magazines such as Physique Pictorial. Here, the stereotypical model and inscription PHYSIQUE references this material. Hockney claimed he painted this image to satisfy the RCA’s requirement that students produce a number of life-drawings. The work’s title and its contrast between the arid skeleton and lively model (clearly not painted from life) subtly mocks his instructors. (Wall text)

 

David Hockney (born 1937) 'Going to be a Queen for Tonight' 1960

 

David Hockney (born 1937)
Going to be a Queen for Tonight
1960
Oil paint on canvas
Royal College of Art

 

 

The words ‘queer’ and ‘queen’, both terms for gay men at this time, are scrawled across the surface of this image. Hockney was fascinated with the graffiti in the public toilets at Earls Court Underground station. Here, messages about opportunities for casual sex were mixed with other slogans. The title playfully hints at these possibilities – ‘queen’ but only for the night. It was one of a number of paintings made by Hockney at the Royal College Of Art which reference queer urban life. Hockney described his early works as ‘a kind of mixture of Alan Davie cum Jackson Pollock cum Roger Hilton’. (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Wrestlers' 1965

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Wrestlers (installation view)
1965
Watercolour and ink on paper
York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery)
Gifted through the Contemporary Art Society, as a bequest from Dr Ronald Lande, in memory of his life partner Walter Urech, 2012

 

 

Physique Photography In Britain

British Physique photography flourished after the Second World War. Body-building magazines such as Health and Strength or Man’s World could be purchased quite innocently in newsagents. For many gay men, however, these publications were an important first step towards finding a community.

Bodybuilding shots, wrestlers and ‘art studies’ offered a pretext for gay photographers such as Vince, Basil Clavery (alias ‘Royale’ and ‘Hussar’), Lon of London and John Barrington to produce homoerotic imagery. Their work often included references to classical civilisation, an established shorthand for queer culture. Some dropped the pretence of bodybuilding altogether and sold more explicit material directly to a burgeoning private market.

This was a risky business: selling or sending such images through the post could land both photographer and purchaser in jail. Yet for many gay men, the easy availability of physique imagery gave reassurance that they were not alone. Somebody out there understood and shared their desires.

 

Installation view of physique album pages

Installation view of physique album pages

 

Installation view of physique album pages from Room 8 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

 

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01
Nov
16

Exhibition: ‘London Calling: Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Andrews, Auerbach, and Kitaj’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Centre, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 26th July – 13th November 2016

Curators: Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum; Julian Brooks, curator of Drawings at the Getty Museum; and Elena Crippa , curator, Modern and Contemporary British Art at Tate.

 

 

While there are a selection of non-figurative paintings in this exhibition, I decided to focus this posting on the figurative work. It seemed a logical and strong thematic choice.

I love these British artists. They get to the essence of contemporary life and portray it in an embodied, emboldened way. As curator Julian Brooks observes, “By pursuing painting as an activity that records and revitalizes an intense sensory experience, these artists rendered the frailty and vitality of the human condition, translating life into art and reinventing the way in which their surroundings could be represented.”

For me, the fluidity and gravitas of the Bacon drawings are a standout, as are the distended faces of the early Freud paintings. It’s almost as if the artist had a fish eye lens to observe his sitters; apparently his approach to them at this time had distinct psychological and spatial aspects, as most of the work in this exhibition does. “The artist admits his early portraits emerged from his ‘visual aggression’ with sitters. He claimed, ‘I would sit very close and stare. It could be uncomfortable for both of us’.” Photography and film have a distinctive influence upon these artists.

Nearly all of the works radiate an evocative psychological intensity. These are feelings about life and the world that come from deep within and… erupt and explode into life. Whether controlled realism (Freud) or molten accretions (Auerbach) these essential works challenge how we inhabit the world and how we see that in/habit-ation. Demons, refugees, murder, rape, suicide (George Dyer), illness, building sites, fascist grotesque bather, surreal-automatic women, nude, self-portrait are all grist to the mill – helping portray certain philosophical or fundamental truths extant to the human condition. The body is destablised in space and destabilized in the landscape of human existence. Anything is possible as long as the artist (and we) recognise it and represent it as such.

These palimpsestic paintings superimpose a new rendition on earlier writings of the body (Velázquez, Titian, Muybridge, Durer etc…). They contain within them the very DNA of our being, now effaced, reused and altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form. These are deep and timeless paintings which upset our apparently secure equilibrium through the representation of a fundamental understanding of life in this very moment. Ego. Self. Other. Culture. Existence. They hold up a mirror to things that we would rather not see, an outsiders (mis)recognition of all that has gone before and all that is to come.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“From the 1940s through the 1980s, a prominent group of London-based artists developed new styles and approaches to depicting the human figure and the landscape. These painters resisted the abstraction, minimalism, and conceptualism that dominated contemporary art at the time, instead focusing on depicting contemporary life through innovative figurative works.

On view at the J. Paul Getty Museum from July 26 to November 13, 2016, London Calling: Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Andrews, Auerbach, and Kitaj represents the first major American museum exhibition to explore the leaders of this movement, often called the “School of London,” as central to a richer and more complex understanding of 20th century painting. The exhibition includes 80 paintings, drawings, and prints by Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, and R.B. Kitaj.

“The majority of paintings and drawings in the Getty Museum’s collection are fundamentally concerned with the rendition of the human figure and landscape up to 1900,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and one of the exhibition curators. “This significant exhibition shows an important part of ‘what happened next’, highlighting an innovative group of figurative artists at a time when abstraction dominated avant-garde discourse in the U.S. and much of Europe. Working with our partners at Tate in London, we have brought together a fabulous group of pictures that exemplify the radical approaches to figure and landscape pioneered by this influential coterie of artists, illuminating their crucial place in modern art history.”

London Calling is a collaboration between Tate and the J. Paul Getty Museum and is curated by Julian Brooks, curator of Drawings at the Getty Museum, Timothy Potts, and Elena Crippa , curator, Modern and Contemporary British Art at Tate. Drawn largely from the unrivaled holdings of Tate, the exhibition has been enriched by a number of loans from other museums and private collectors.

“By pursuing painting as an activity that records and revitalizes an intense sensory experience, these artists rendered the frailty and vitality of the human condition, translating life into art and reinventing the way in which their surroundings could be represented,” said Brooks. “The ‘School of London’ artists doggedly pursued forms of figurative painting at a time when it was considered outmoded. In recent decades the work of these artists has rightly been reassessed. It is timely to look at them as a group and deepen our appreciation of their contribution.”

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

Francis Bacon was born in Dublin in 1909 to English parents. After traveling to Germany and France he settled in London. He received guidance from an older friend, the Australian artist Roy de Maistre, but was otherwise largely self-taught. In 1945, the showing of a number of his paintings at London’s Lefevre Gallery established his critical reputation, and he became central to an artistic milieu in Soho that included Lucian Freud and Michael Andrews. From the mid-1940s, he began taking as a starting point for his work reproductions of paintings, sculpture, photographs, and film stills, mostly relating to the imagery of angst that resonated with both historical and personal circumstances. From 1962 he expanded the range of his photographic sources by commissioning particular shots of models, mostly friends and lovers. For example, Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne, 1966, on view in the exhibition, was based on a photo of his friend and regular subject, the artist Isabel Rawsthorne (1912-1992).

A highlight of the exhibition, Triptych – August 1972 forms part of a series of so-called “Black Triptychs,” which followed the suicide of Bacon’s longtime lover, George Dyer, in 1971. In the composition, Dyer appears on the left and Bacon himself is on the right. The image on the central panel is derived from a photograph of wrestlers by Eadweard Muybridge.

Bacon’s well-known Figure with Meat, 1954 belongs to a large series of works based on reproductions of Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. In this version, Bacon depicts the Pope between two halves of a hanging animal carcass, a motif relating to the first portrait of Bacon taken by the photographer John Deakin, in 1952, in which the painter is stripped to the waist and holds a split carcass. In establishing a connection between the raw, butchered meat and human flesh, Bacon expresses a sense of emotional turmoil and reminds the viewer of the vulnerability of the human body.

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Triptych August 1972' 1972

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Triptych August 1972
1972
Oil and sand on three canvases
Each 198.1 × 147.3 cm (78 × 58 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1980 ©
The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This work is generally considered one in a series of Black Triptychs which followed the suicide of Bacon’s lover, George Dyer. Dyer appears on the left and Bacon is on the right. The central group is derived from a photograph of wrestlers by Edward Muybridge, but also suggests a more sexual encounter. The seated figures and their coupling are set against black voids and the central flurry has been seen as ‘a life-and death struggle’. The artist’s biographer wrote: ‘What death has not already consumed seeps incontinently out of the figures as their shadows.’

September 2016

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Collapsed Figure' c. 1957-1961

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Collapsed Figure
c. 1957-1961
Oil on paper
34 × 27 cm (13 3/8 × 10 5/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Although no source has been identified it is likely that Collapsed Figure derived from sports photographs which, in a 1974 interview, Bacon specified as a valued stimulus: ‘I look all the time at photographs in magazines of footballers and boxers and all that kind of thing – especially boxers.’ He noted that he trawled them in the same way that he used Eadweard Muybridge’s stills of figures in motion.

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Blue Crawling Figure, No. 1' c. 1957-1961

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Blue Crawling Figure, No. 1
c. 1957-1961
Oil on paper
34 × 27 cm (13 3/8 × 10 5/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

These pages almost certainly came at the end of the dismembered sketchbook. They represent the most coherent programme of drawing through which Bacon explored compositional possibilities in a succession of images. The sense of structure of the body, as well as the degree of abstraction of  form, are progressively modified across the ‘Crawling Figure’ images. They were probably achieved by tracing from one to the other. Although no related oil painting is known to survive, the extent to which the possibilities are explored testifies to the significant role of sketches within Bacon’s working process.

September 2004

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Figure with Left Arm Raised, No. 2' c. 1957-1961

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Figure with Left Arm Raised, No. 2
c. 1957-1961
Oil on paper
34 × 27 cm (13 3/8 × 10 5/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Figure in a Landscape' c. 1952

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Figure in a Landscape
c. 1952
Oil on paper
33.9 × 26.3 cm (13 3/8 × 10 3/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Reclining Figure, No. 1' c. 1961

 

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Reclining Figure, No. 1
c. 1961
Oil and ink on paper
23.8 × 15.6 cm (9 3/8 × 6 1/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

These two works on paper by Bacon are the only ones in the display in which the page has been filled. As the pose remains the same, they may have served as colour studies and may even be a response to Mark Rothko’s contemporary work (seen in London in 1959). The male nude, and the horizontal bands (derived from a sofa against a wall) are common to a series of Bacon’s oil  paintings from 1959 and 1961. The sketches appear to be later, as an impression of writing from another sheet but visible on ‘Reclining Figure, no.1’ gives his address as ‘7 Reece Mews’, the studio which he occupied in the autumn of 1961.

September 2004

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle' 1966

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle
1966
Oil on canvas
198 x 147.5 cm (77 15/16 x 58 1/16 in.)
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Beyeler Collection
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Figure with Meat' 1954

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Figure with Meat
1954
Oil on canvas
129.9 × 121.9 cm (51 1/8 × 48 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, Harriott A. Fox Fund
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake)' 1955

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake)
1955
Oil on canvas 61 × 50.8 cm (24 × 20 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1979
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This is one of a series based on the life mask of poet and painter William Blake. Bacon first saw the mask at the National Portrait Gallery in London, but he also used photographs and, at some point, he even acquired a cast of it. His response to the source is typical of his preference for a mediated image of the body. The painting is more complex than it seems: it is built up with delicate layers of paint against a rich black ground. One commentator wrote, ‘broad strokes of pink and mauve, with which Bacon establishes an equivocation between waxen mask and human flesh, drag pain and loneliness and imperturbable spirit in their wake’.

May 2007

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne' 1966

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne
1966
Oil on canvas
81.3 × 68.6 cm (32 × 27 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1966
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Lucian Freud (1922-2011)

Grandson of the creator of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Lucian Freud was born in Berlin in 1922 and moved with his family to London in 1933 to escape Nazism. He trained at the Central School of Art in London and at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham. Freud had his first solo exhibition in 1944 at London’s Lefevre Gallery. Throughout his career he focused on the human figure, rendered in a realist manner and imbued with a stark and evocative psychological intensity. He described his work as autobiographical, most of his work taking his surroundings and people he knew intimately as his subjects, as in the case of friends, lovers, and family members.

Between 1947 and 1951 Freud made eight portraits of his first wife Kathleen (“Kitty”) Garman (1926-2011). On view in the exhibition, Girl with a Kitten, 1947 is a psychologically charged composition featuring Garman holding a kitten by its neck in a tense grip, her white knuckles especially prominent. The precision in this work is achieved through the use of fine sable brushes on finely woven canvas.

One of Freud’s frequent subjects was the performance artist, designer, and nightclub personality Leigh Bowery (1961-1994). In an intimate and vulnerable small portrait from 1991 Freud depicts Bowery sleeping. In contrast, the monumental Leigh under the Skylight, 1994 renders his starkly naked form as theatrically statuesque.

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Man with a Thistle (Self-Portrait)' 1946

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Man with a Thistle (Self-Portrait)
1946
Oil on canvas
61 × 50.2 cm (24 × 19 3/4 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1961
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This is one of a number of self-portraits painted by Freud during the 1940s. Freud has used a realistic, but emblematic, style which derives from Old Master paintings of the Northern Renaissance. The artist shows himself looking through a window at a spiky thistle resting on a ledge in the foreground. At the same time, the thistle may also be read as an emblem occupying flattened space at the bottom of the painting. This ambiguity allows the thistle to be interpreted as a real object, but also as a device which suggests the mood of the painting and Freud’s own psychological state. 

September 2004

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Girl with a Kitten' 1947

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Girl with a Kitten
1947
Oil on canvas
41 × 30.7 × 1.8 cm (16 1/8 × 12 1/16 × 11/16 in.)
Tate: Bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury 2006, accessioned 2008
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

In 1946-7 Freud traveled to Paris and Greece, returning to London in February 1947. Here he began a relationship with Kitty Garman, the eldest daughter of the sculptor Jacob Epstein and the model and collector Kathleen Garman. The subsequent marriage between Freud and Kitty was short-lived – they wed in the spring of 1948 and divorced in 1952 after having two daughters. Freud’s portraits of Kitty include four oil paintings – beginning with Girl in a Dark Jacket 1947 and finishing with Girl with a White Dog 1950-1 (Tate N06039) – as well as two etchings, a work in pastel, and a drawing in ink and crayon.

The portraits of Kitty Garman mark the culmination of Freud’s early portrait style, which evoked the tradition of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) – a form of realist painting that emerged in Germany in the early 1920s, and was characterised by its sharp and unsentimental style. (Freud, grandson of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, was born in Berlin in 1922 and came to Britain in 1933, and studied at a number of art schools during the war.) The intensity of Girl with a Kitten, and especially the manner in which Garman dominates the pictorial frame, might also stem from Freud’s approach to his sitters at this time, which had distinct psychological and spatial aspects. The artist admits his early portraits emerged from his ‘visual aggression’ with sitters. He claimed, ‘I would sit very close and stare. It could be uncomfortable for both of us.’ (Quoted in Michael Auping, ‘Freud from America’, in Howgate, Auping and Richardson 2012, p.41.) By the mid-1950s Freud had abandoned the highly controlled style of portraiture seen in this work, and he began to paint in a looser and more viscous style.

Text from the Tate website

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Narcissus' 1948

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Narcissus
1948
Ink on paper
Image: 21 × 13.7 cm (8 1/4 × 5 3/8 in.) Framed: 36 × 28.9 × 2.9 cm (14 3/16 × 11 3/8 × 1 1/8 in.)
Tate: Bequeathed by Pauline Vogelpoel, Director of the Contemporary Art Society, 2002, accessioned 2004
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

In the late 1940s the publishers MacGibbon & Kee commissioned Freud to illustrate Rex Warner’s book Men and Gods on classical mythology. He produced four drawings for the book, of which Narcissus is one. The others are Man of Hyacinths (Colin St John Wilson Collection), Hercules (private collection) and Actaeon (private collection). The figures in all the drawings are in modern dress. The publishing house rejected the drawings because they did not illustrate the stories sufficiently, and instead chose Elizabeth Corsellis’s drawings for the book, which was published in 1950. Freud made illustrations for several other books during the 1940s, though few were ever selected for publication.

The close-up view and tight framing of Narcissus are typical of Freud’s many portraits of this early period, which frequently emphasize the subjects’ large, almond-shaped eyes. These are depicted in a meditative mood looking down, as in Narcissus, or looking upwards and away from the viewer. Reflection and mirroring were to become recurring themes in Freud’s work, particularly in his many self-portraits. The pose portrayed in Narcissus is later echoed in the painting Man’s Head (Self-Portrait I) 1963 (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester) in which the artist’s head, propped with one arm cutting aggressively into the frame, looks down at a mirror not included in the work. Another self-portrait, Interior with Hand Mirror (Self-Portrait) 1967 (private collection), shows the artist’s face isolated in a hand mirror propped between two sections of window. His expression is contorted in a winking grimace as though he is attempting to see, a reminder that viewing is central to Freud’s process as a painter. In this image the mirror’s cropping has cut off the viewing part of him from his body. In a similar manner, Narcissus shows the subject cut off from the viewer by the exclusion of his viewing eyes, omitted from the bottom of the image. A more recent image, the print Self-Portrait: Reflection 1996 (Tate P11509), again refers to this circular process of mirroring and interior looking which is emphasised in its title.

Text from the Tate website

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Boy Smoking' 1950-1951

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Boy Smoking
1950-1951
Oil on copper
15.5 × 11.5 × 0.2 cm (6 1/8 × 4 1/2 × 1/16 in.)
Tate: Bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury 2006, accessioned 2008
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

The painting was made by the British artist Lucian Freud in his studio in London in 1950. To create this work Freud took a used copper etching plate and prepared it with a thick layer of white primer. He then employed sable paintbrushes (as opposed to hogshair, which he would use almost exclusively from 1956 onwards) to apply a smoothly blended mixture of oil paint and tempera to the copper plate in fine, even brushstrokes. The white primer was left exposed by Freud to produce the lighter areas of the painting, except for the very brightest parts, which he created using a fresh application of white paint. Freud used thin washes of grey and brown underpaint to create areas of shadow around the boy’s eyes and hair. Each section of the painting has been given equal focus by Freud, establishing a uniformity of detail and flatness, characteristics not present in many of the artist’s later portraits.

The oversized almond shaped eyes and the plump mouth in Boy Smoking are features that recur in the portraits Freud made early in his career, as can be seen in Girl with a Kitten 1947 (Tate T12617), Narcissus 1948 (Tate T11793) and Francis Bacon 1952 (Tate N06040). Furthermore, the subjects of these early head-and-shoulder portraits are all presented in isolation, divorced from any context, with no indication of their personal history or social status. In this sense, they evoke the tradition of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), a form of realist painting that emerged in the early 1920s in Germany and was characterised by its unsentimental style. (Freud was born in Berlin in 1922 and moved to Britain in 1933, and studied at a number of art schools during the war.) According to the art historian and Freud biographer William Feaver, Freud painted portraits such as Boy Smoking by sitting uncomfortably near to his subjects, often knee-to-knee, staring at them intently for periods of up to eight hours at a time during multiple sittings that extended over a period of several months (Feaver 2002, p.26).

The boy in the painting has been identified as Charlie Lumley, a neighbour and friend of Freud’s whom the artist painted regularly while occupying a studio in Delamere Terrace near Paddington during the 1950s. The inhabitants of this part of London at the time have been characterised by curator Catherine Lampert as ‘costermongers, villains and thieves’ (Lampert 1993, p.15), a description that could be applied to Lumley, whom Freud first encountered when Lumley and his brother were attempting to break into Freud’s studio (see Wilson 2008, p.112).

Text from the Tate website

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Girl with a White Dog' 1950-1951

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Girl with a White Dog
1950-1951
Oil on canvas
76.2 × 101.6 cm (30 × 40 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1952
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This picture shows the artist’s first wife when she was pregnant. The style of the painting has roots in the smooth and linear portraiture of the great nineteenth-century French neoclassical painter, Ingres. This, together with the particular psychological atmosphere of Freud’s early work, led the critic Herbert Read to make his celebrated remark that Freud was ‘the Ingres of Existentialism’. The sense that Freud gives of human existence as essentially lonely, and spiritually if not physically painful, is something shared by his great contemporaries, Francis Bacon and the sculptor Alberto Giacometti.

April 2005

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Man Posing' 1985

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Man Posing
1985
Etching on paper
Image: 69.5 × 54.3 cm (27 3/8 × 21 3/8 in.) Framed: 99 × 84 × 4 cm (39 × 33 1/16 × 1 9/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1987
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Leigh Bowery' 1991

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Leigh Bowery
1991
Oil on canvas
51 × 40.9 cm (20 1/16 × 16 1/8 in.)
Tate: Presented anonymously 1994
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This is a small portrait of the maverick gay performer and nightclub personality Leigh Bowery (1961-94). It portrays Bowery’s head and naked upper torso framed against dark red upholstery. His bald head rests against his raised left shoulder, his eyes are closed and his cheeks and mouth hang loosely as though he is asleep. Freud’s manner of painting emphasises the fleshiness of Bowery’s face. This is achieved through the application of paint in different textures – in some areas relatively smooth, in others thickly but delicately built up. Apparently unconscious of the artist’s gaze, Bowery has a vulnerable appearance which belies the bulk of his physical form.

Freud was introduced to Bowery by their mutual friend, the artist Cerith Wyn Evans (born 1958), in 1988. He had recently seen Bowery’s performance at Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London. In his first public appearance in a fine art context, Bowery posed behind a one way mirror in the gallery for two hours a day over the period of a week. He was dressed in the flamboyant outfits he usually wore in the London nightclubs where he had become a leading figure in the underground scene, known for his outrageous and frequently offensive performances. Born and bred in Australia, he had come to London in 1980 in search of glamour. The extraordinary costumes he created for himself played on fashion, fetishism and carnival aesthetics and transformed his sixteen stones of flesh into an androgynous spectacle. Bowery used his body to construct an identity through which he could express aspects of his personality. This involved moulding and taping his torso, often quite masochistically, as though it were his sculptural material and masking his face or covering it with outlandish makeup. Holes in his cheeks, visible in Freud’s portrait, were pierced for the insertion of large safety-pins which would attach fake smiling lips to his face. Freud said of Bowery ‘I found him perfectly beautiful’ (quoted in Bernard, p.19). He also commented ‘the way he edits his body is amazingly aware and amazingly abandoned’ (quoted in Feaver, p.43). Bowery said of Freud: ‘I love the psychological aspect of his work – in fact I sometimes felt as if I had been undergoing psychoanalysis with him … His work is full of tension. Like me he is interested in the underbelly of things.’ (Quoted in Sue Tilley, Leigh Bowery: The Life and Times of an Icon, London 1997, p.220.) …

Freud frames his subjects in the manner of a photographer; they are often viewed close-up and cropped dramatically. His treatment of bodies emphasises the tactile attributes of flesh almost to the point of viscerality. From his earliest paintings, his treatment of nudes was unorthodox and frequently viewed as shocking at the time of their making. At the age of fourteen he had painted a bearded, naked male figure Old Man Running 1936 (collection unknown), an irreverent representation of the patriarch whose nakedness is considered taboo in Western cultures. Man with Rat 1977 (Art Gallery of Western Australia) depicts a red-haired man lounging naked, legs splayed on a sofa and genitals almost painfully exposed, holding a black rat, the tail of which is draped sensuously over his thigh. Freud considers his paintings of nudes to be as much portraits as they refer to the traditional genre of the nude and it is significant that he chose to paint Bowery naked rather than in the costumes through which Bowery expressed his public identity. Rather than glorifying the body, Freud’s ‘realistic’ representation presents it in all the vulnerability of nakedness, emphasising his subject’s humanity.

Text from the Tate website

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Leigh under the Skylight' 1994

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Leigh under the Skylight
1994
Oil on canvas
270.5 × 119.4 cm (106 1/2 × 47 in.)
Private Collection
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Image: Bridgeman Images

 

 

Bowery posed regularly for Freud over a four year period. Freud’s first painting of him was Leigh Bowery (Seated) 1990 (private collection). To accommodate and emphasise Bowery’s enormous scale, it was one of the largest paintings Freud had ever made (2437 x 1830mm). In an even larger painting of Bowery, Leigh Under the Skylight 1994 (2972 x 1207mm, collection unknown), the model stands on a draped table towering over the artist and viewer as though he is a monumental sculpture. This contrasts markedly with the majority of Freud’s portraits and nudes which are almost exclusively painted looking down at his subject.

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Woman Sleeping' 1995

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Woman Sleeping
1995
Etching on paper
Image: 73 × 59.4 cm (28 3/4 × 23 3/8 in.) Framed: 89.8 × 124.5 × 3 cm (35 3/8 × 49 × 1 3/16 in.)
Tate: Presented anonymously 1997
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Naked Portrait' 2001

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Naked Portrait
2001
Oil on canvas
167.6 × 132.1 cm (66 × 52 in.)
Michael Moritz and Harriet Heyman
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service

 

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)

Leon Kossoff was born in London, where he still resides and works, to first-generation immigrants of Russian Jewish ancestry. He studied at Saint Martin’s (where he and Frank Auerbach became close friends), at Borough Polytechnic, and at the Royal College of Art. He had his first exhibition at London’s Beaux Arts Gallery in 1957. From the early 1950s, Kossoff began painting a close circle of family and friends, producing pictures in which they acquired a solid, material presence, similar to that of the buildings and streets of London that he knew intimately and to which he also constantly returned. He developed a painterly style with thickly applied, constantly reworked layers of paint in characteristic earth tones.

In the early 1950s, Kossoff and Auerbach were fascinated by building sites, abundant in London at the time as the bomb-damaged city was being rebuilt after the war. For these artists, they were places where the earth beneath the city was revealed, and ladders and scaffolding offered ready-made linear structures. Early drawings such as Building Site, Oxford Street, 1952 were intensively worked, as Kossoff constantly erased and restarted the image.

Children’s Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon, 1971, depicts a newly built swimming pool near the artist’s North London studio where he took his son to learn to swim. Kossoff made five large paintings of the pool and its light-filled space from 1969-1972, each distinguished by an expansive treatment of space and vibrant sense of energy.

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Building Site, Oxford Street' 1952

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Building Site, Oxford Street
1952
Crayon, charcoal and gouache on paper
112 × 133.5 cm (44 1/8 × 52 9/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1996
© Leon Kossoff Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Like his close friend Frank Auerbach Kossoff was fascinated by building sites during the 1950s. These abounded in London as its bomb-damaged fabric was rebuilt after the war. Perhaps they stood for the transient and ever-changing nature of the modern city. They were also places where the earth beneath the city was revealed. This drawing, like Auerbach’s painting on the same theme, shows how they also offered a  ready-made linear structure for the artist’s picture. 

September 2004

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Man in a Wheelchair' 1959-1962

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Man in a Wheelchair
1959-1962
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
213.4 × 123.2 cm (84 × 48 1/2 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1963
© Leon Kossoff Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Kossoff developed a manner of painting with exceptionally thick paint which is deposited on the board in places almost untouched, giving a sense of three-dimensional form. The model for this painting was the painter John Lessore, who sat for Kossoff once or twice a week for three years. For most of that time, Kossoff recalled, he concentrated on developing the subject through drawings. The discipline of drawing every day is at the heart of Kossoff’s practice.

July 2012

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Woman III in Bed, Surrounded by Family' 1965

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Woman III in Bed, Surrounded by Family
1965
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
185.4 × 124.5 cm (73 × 49 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1981
© Leon Kossoff
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

‘Woman Ill in Bed, Surrounded by Family’ was painted at a time when there was illness in the artist’s family. In common with all his work Kossoff worked on the painting in his studio, basing it on drawings made from life. However, it departs from Kossoff’s usual practices in that the composition was based, not on preliminary sketches, but on an engraving of the Virgin in bed by Albrecht Durer. The sombre colours and great density of paint evoke vividly a sense of human suffering and the tragic nature of human existence, themes which are at the heart of Kossoff’s work.

September 2004

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Children's Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon' 1971

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Children’s Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon
1971
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
168 × 214 × 5.6 cm (66 1/8 × 84 1/4 × 2 3/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1981
© Leon Kossoff Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Kossoff’s principal subjects are his immediate family and friends and the parts of London which he knows best. In the 1960s he set up a studio in Willesden, north London and in 1967 a swimming pool opened close by. He began taking his son there to teach him to swim, and the pool and its space provided him with a new subject. He made four large paintings of the pool between 1969 and 1972 of which this is one. All are distinguished by a lightness of touch and a sense of movement, noise and space.

August 2004

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Two Seated Figures No. 2' 1980

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Two Seated Figures No. 2
1980
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
243.8 × 182.8 cm (96 × 71 15/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1983
© Leon Kossoff
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This painting is a unique departure from Kossoff’s usual methods. Normally he works on paintings for months and even years, continually scraping back and repainting the image. Instead, Kossoff completed this work ‘in two or three hours. There are no other attempts on this board’. He sees it as ‘a direct urgent extension’ of two drawings made earlier the same day. The thread-like traces of paint resulted from the brush dripping onto the painting’s surface while it was in a horizontal position. Its subject is Kossoff’s parents – Jewish immigrants from Russia – who arrived in England as children early this century. Kossoff has painted his parents ‘all my painting life’.

September 2004

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Booking Hall, Kilburn Underground' 1987

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Booking Hall, Kilburn Underground
1987
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
198.2 × 182.7 cm (78 1/16 × 71 15/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery and the Mail on Sunday through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1989
© Leon Kossoff
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This large and imposing oil painting belongs to a series of works – which began in 1976 and continued until the late 1980s – by the British painter Leon Kossoff depicting Kilburn Underground station in north-west London. In the foreground of this work, two men and three women walk through the station’s booking hall, and more shadowy human forms can be glimpsed on the staircase leading up to the platforms in the background and on the right-hand side of the painting. With the exception of the brighter clothing worn by some of the figures in the foreground, the palette is distinguished by cloudy blues, pinks and whites, and the painting seems filled with a distinct gloom, perhaps reflecting the drudgery of the daily commute. The figures are locked into a loose structure of vertical and diagonal lines formed by the booking hall’s roof and tilted-up floor.

Kossoff has said that, when painting public scenes such as Booking Hall, Kilburn Underground 1987, portraits of people close to him begin to appear within the crowds (see Rose 2013, p.18). Without exactly specifying the figures, curator Paul Moorhouse has identified the group in the foreground of this painting as comprising Kossoff’s wife, Peggy, his brothers, and his long-time model and friend Fidelma (Moorhouse 1996, p.24).

Text from the Tate website

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Christ Church, Spitalfields, Morning' 1990

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Christ Church, Spitalfields, Morning
1990
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
198.6 × 189.2 cm (78 3/16 × 74 1/2 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1994
© Leon Kossoff Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)

Andrews studied painting under William Coldstream at the Slade School of Art between 1949 and 1953. Lucian Freud, who also taught at the school, was an important example and offered encouragement, while Francis Bacon visited to talk about his work, also making a memorable impression. His first solo exhibition was presented at London’s Beaux Arts Gallery in 1958. From the early 1950s photographs became important sources in the creation of his work. During this early period Andrews concentrated on portraits of his friends and contemporaries as well as party scenes, developing his characteristic combination of meticulous observation with imaginative elements and implied narrative. From the mid-1970s the landscape he encountered while traveling became the subject of many paintings. In the 1990s, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, he chose the river Thames as his final, major subject.

The Deer Park, 1962 was inspired by Norman Mailer’s 1955 novel of the same title. For Andrews, the novel seemed to describe the world of the Soho clubs and bars he frequented. Rather than illustrating the text, however, the painting creates a new, imaginary situation involving a cast of different characters exhibiting various social behaviors and interactions. The figures are all based on photographs and film images of people from the entertainment and literary worlds, past and contemporary. They include Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, and the poet Rimbaud. The background landscape is based on Diego Velasquez’s Philip IV Hunting Wild Boar (about 1632-37) in the National Gallery, London.

Melanie and Me Swimming, 1978-79 is a painting of Andrews and his daughter, then aged six, swimming together in a rock pool, based on a color photograph taken by a friend while they were on holiday at Glenartney Lodge, in Scotland, in the summer of 1976. As with many of his paintings, this one is a combination of real elements and his own memories of the event.

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995) 'A Man Who Suddenly Fell Over' 1952

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)
A Man Who Suddenly Fell Over
1952
Oil on hardboard
120.6 × 172.7 cm (47 1/2 × 68 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1958
© the Estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

In common with much of Andrews’s work this picture is partly autobiographical. It was painted for his Diploma Examination shortly before leaving the Slade School of Art to face a period of uncertainty. He later commented that this painting was ‘about the complete upsetting of someone’s apparently secure equilibrium and about their most immediate efforts at recovery and their attempt to conceal that they have perhaps been badly hurt or upset’. This might explain why the man seems to grin instead of crying out in shock. The image of the body destablised in space was of interest to a number of artists in the 1950s, including Francis Bacon and Anthony Caro.

September 2004

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995) 'Study for a Man in a Landscape (Digswell)' 1959

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)
Study for a Man in a Landscape (Digswell)
1959
Oil on canvas
40.6 × 35.9 cm (16 × 14 1/8 in.)
Tate: Presented by the executors of the estate of David Wilkie 1993
© the Estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Many of the works owned by Wilkie held a particular, often personal, significance for him. He was interested in philosophy and he saw the art he admired as expressing certain philosophical or fundamental truths. This painting by Michael Andrews demonstrates this principle. It portrays a tramp whom the artist sometimes saw when he occupied a communal studio in Digswell, Hertfordshire, in the late 1950s. Wilkie’s attitude to such social outcasts – outsiders looking in on society – was compassionate and respectful. He observed that characters like Digswell Man, as Andrews called him, ‘possess a true knowledge of human life… through their fundamental life’.

September 2004

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995) 'The Deer Park' 1962

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)
The Deer Park
1962
Oil on board
214 × 244.5 cm (84 1/4 × 96 1/4 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1974
© the Estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

‘The Deer Park’ was inspired by Norman Mailer’s novel of the same title. For Andrews, the novel seemed to describe ‘the world of Soho’ whose clubs and bars he had frequented. Rather than illustrating the text, however, the painting creates a new, imaginary situation involving a cast of different characters. Its subject is social behaviour ‘where people are relaxed and project images close to themselves’. The figures are all based on photographs of people from show business and literary worlds, past and present. They include Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and the poet Rimbaud. The background is based on ‘The Boar Hunt’ by Velasquez in the National Gallery, London.

August 2004

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995) 'Melanie and Me Swimming' 1978-1979

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)
Melanie and Me Swimming
1978-1979
Acrylic on canvas
182.9 × 182.9 cm (72 × 72 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1979
© the Estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)

Born in Berlin in 1931, Auerbach was sent to Kent, England at age seven to escape Nazism. In 1947 he moved to London, where he continues to live and work. After the war, he performed in small London theaters and studied painting at the Borough Polytechnic at Saint Martin’s School of Art and at the Royal College of Art. Auerbach’s early work focused on the human figure and numerous building sites in the British capital scarred by the war and undergoing reconstruction. In 1956 he had his first solo exhibition at the Beaux Arts Gallery. He quickly became known for his thick application of paint. In the 1960s he began employing brighter colors and scraping down entire canvases rather than working on top of previous attempts, often spending months or years on a single painting. Recurring subjects are regular portrait sitters, Primrose Hill (a part of Regent’s Park in north London), and the streets of Camden Town, where he has been living and working since 1954. He still draws and paints 365 days a year.

Mornington Crescent with the Statue of Sickert’s Father-in-Law, 1966, depicts the area of North London in which Auerbach works, an area that has long captivated other artists such as Walter Sickert and the Camden Town Group. While Auerbach acknowledges this, he has stated that he doesn’t paint this area to ally himself with such history, rather that he simply sees London as a raw unpainted city. A streetlight can be seen at upper right, and the multitude of railings and lampposts in this view give the composition an almost grid-like formal structure, animated by the bright, bold pigments that Auerbach began to favor during the 1960s.

One of the most recent paintings in the exhibition, Mornington Crescent – Summer Morning, 2004 refers to the same location and captures the intense process of its making, with the use of large brushes to apply the paint energetically and rapidly. Elements of the composition – such as the windows and edges of buildings, rooftops, cars, and passersby – are highlighted with thick strokes. These straight marks contrast with the gestural quality of the marks that build up the large areas of the sky, road, and buildings.

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'E. O. W. Nude' 1953-1954

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
E. O. W. Nude
1953-1954
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
50.8 × 76.8 cm (20 × 30 1/4 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1959
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Auerbach studied with Bomberg longer than anyone else. He started at Borough Polytechnic in January 1947 and went to evening classes there until 1953, while officially attending St Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art. Auerbach said he learnt from Bomberg not technique but ‘a sense of the grand standards of painting.’ He developed a distinctive manner of painting in which thick paint is given an independent reality of its own, as well as being used as a means of representing a physical object.

September 2004

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'Self-Portrait' 1958

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
Self-Portrait
1958
Charcoal and paper collage
77.2 × 56.5 cm (30 3/8 × 22 1/4 in.)
Courtesy of the Daniel Katz Gallery, London
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'Study after Titian II' 196

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
Study after Titian II
1965
Oil on canvas
67.3 × 62.2 cm (26 1/2 × 24 1/2 in.)
Tate: Presented by the executors of the estate of David Wilkie 1993
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Both this painting and the related work, ‘Study after Titian I’, shown nearby, were inspired by Titian’s ‘Tarquin and Lucretia’. Although the original work exists in two versions, one being in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, Wilkie specified that the version in question was the one in the Akademie der Bildenden Künst in Vienna. Titian’s subject is Tarquin’s rape of Lucretia. Auerbach created his versions of that image by working from a reclining female model who adopted the pose of Lucretia, and from a drawing made from a reproduction of the original work. In both works a gash in the paint surface forcefully conveys a sense of violence and violation.

September 2004

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'J. Y. M. Seated No. 1' 1981

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
J. Y. M. Seated No. 1
1981
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
71.1 × 61 cm (28 × 24 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1981
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

The subject of this painting is Juliet Yardley Mills (JYM), Auerbach’s principal model since 1963. Auerbach has completed over seventy portraits and studies of Mills. This, the first of three paintings of her executed in 1981, was completed in about twenty sittings. As in nearly all his studies of her, Mills is shown looking out of the picture and is seen slightly from below. In contrast to Auerbach’s earlier paintings, in which the paint surface is built up to a thick accretion, this portrait demonstrates the freedom of drawing and fluid movement of paint which characterise his later style.

August 2004

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'Self-Portrait II' 2010

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
Self-Portrait II
2010
Graphite on paper
76.5 × 57.5 cm (30 1/8 × 22 5/8 in.)
Private Collection
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

 

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)

R. B. Kitaj was born in Cleveland. After high school Kitaj sailed extensively as a merchant seaman and served in the U.S. Army in Europe. Between those assignments he studied painting at Cooper Union and the Academy of Fine Art, Vienna. Following his army stint, he moved to England to attend the Ruskin School, Oxford, and the Royal College of Art, London. His first exhibition was held at Marlborough Fine Art in 1963. It was around this time that Kitaj met Andrews, Auerbach, Bacon, Freud, and Kossoff, who were also with the gallery. During the early 1960s Kitaj concentrated on combining figurative imagery with abstraction and began to incorporate collage into his paintings, drawing on photography and cinema and referring to historical events and political circumstances. In the mid-1970s he began to work increasingly from life, moving away from complex compositions to more straightforward figure studies. During the late 1980s he continued to read widely in Jewish culture – studying Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud, and Franz Kafka – and positioned himself more explicitly as a Jewish artist. In 1989 he published his First Diasporist Manifesto, analyzing the Jewish dimension in his art and his role as an outsider. In 1997 he left London and moved to Los Angeles, where he died in 2007.

Cecil Court, London W.C.2. (The Refugees), 1983-84 is set in the London thoroughfare famous for its secondhand bookshops and a favorite haunt of Kitaj. The artist is shown reclining on a sofa in the foreground, while figures from his life jump out in the background. Kitaj has explained that this theatrical composition was inspired by the peripatetic troupes of the Yiddisher Theatre in Central Europe, which he had learned about from his grandparents and from Kafka’s diaries.

The Wedding 1989-93 is a major work by Kitaj that brings together crucial themes in his practice – including his Jewish identity and his friendships and associations as a School of London artist. Depicting Kitaj’s wedding to the American artist Sandra Fisher (1947-94), which took place in 1983, the painting prominently depicts School of London artists Freud, Kossoff, and David Hockney, painters who were linked by both friendship and shared artistic concerns.

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'Erasmus Variations' 1958

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
Erasmus Variations
1958
Oil on canvas
104.9 × 84.2 cm (41 5/16 × 33 1/8 in.)
Tate: Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2007
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

The work’s title refers to the initial source for the image, a series of doodles the Dutch humanist scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) made in the margins of a manuscript he was annotating. Kitaj encountered Erasmus’s scribbled faces in one of the first books he read while in Oxford, the biography of the scholar by the historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945). Kitaj’s composition follows the grid-like arrangement imposed on Erasmus’s doodles in the reproduction in Huizinga’s book, and his faces have broadly the same exaggerated features as those drawn by Erasmus.

To Kitaj, Erasmus’s absent-minded doodles suggested a prefiguration of the method of automatic drawing (that is, drawing made without the intervention of reason) that would later be favoured by the surrealists. In Erasmus Variations, the artist employs a loose and gestural method of painting evocative of abstract expressionism. The work thus links the surrealist belief that automatic drawing provides an insight into the workings of the mind with a similar idea implied in gestural abstraction: that the artwork reveals the personality of the artist (Livingstone, 2010, pp.16-7).

Kitaj derived the style and technique of painting that he used in Erasmus Variations specifically from the Dutch-born abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning (1904-97), in particular the images of female nudes de Kooning made in the late 1940s. Kitaj explained: ‘De Kooning’s surreal-automatic ‘Women’ were my favourite action paintings of the School of New York, a recalcitrant or truant of which I had been during my Manhattan years, and so I adapted something of that mode here; Double Dutch (Erasmus and De Kooning, both of Rotterdam).’ (Quoted in Livingstone, 2010, p. 232.)

Text from the Tate website

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg' 1960

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg
1960
Oil, ink, graphite and paper on canvas
153 × 152.4 cm (60 1/4 × 60 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1980
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This is an early example of Kitaj’s many paintings on the theme of the unjust infliction of human suffering. Its ostensible subject is the murder in 1919 of the Jewish agitator and theoretician Rosa Luxemburg, who was killed by troops opposed to the revolutionary movement that swept Germany in the wake of the First World War. In the centre of this painting a figure holds Luxemburg’s corpse, while at top right is a collaged transcription of an account of the murder. Kitaj associated Luxemburg with his grandmother Helene, who was forced to flee Vienna in the 1930s. The veiled figure at top left represents his maternal grandmother, who fled Russia as a result of earlier pogroms of the Jewish people.

September 2004

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'Boys and Girls!' 1964

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
Boys and Girls!
1964
Screen print on paper
Image: 52.7 × 41.3 cm (20 3/4 × 16 1/4 in.) Framed: 87 × 62.5 × 3 cm (34 1/4 × 24 5/8 × 1 3/16 in.)
Tate: Presented by Rose and Chris Prater through the Institute of Contemporary Prints 1975
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'The Rise of Fascism' 1975-1979

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
The Rise of Fascism
1975-1979
Oil, charcoal and pastel on paper
85.1 × 158.4 cm (33 1/2 × 62 3/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1980
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

‘The central grotesque bather is the fascist. The bather at the left is the beautiful victim. The righthand bather is the ordinary European watching it all happen. A bomber appears in the upper left corner which will cross the English Channel and bring an end to it all one day.

‘The three figures were originally drawn on separate sheets of paper from women who posed for me in New York and London. Later, between 1975 and 1979, when I took it into my head to make a composition, I asked a few other women to assume the poses that would represent the bathers in fascist Europe. After the drawings were glued together, the images began to change many times.

Much of the drawing was ultimately invented but the pose of the righthand figure is based on a picture by the Cordoban painter Romero de Torres (d. 1930).’ ~ R. B. Kitaj

The method of fusing together drawings done on separate pieces of paper to produce a single image, which can be seen in several other pastels of this period … contributes to the ambiguous relationship, both physical and psychological, between the three figures… While one effect of this cutting and joining is to emphasise the fragmentary nature of the composition, Kitaj also makes use of the edges of the paper to reinforce contour and volume. When questioned about the extreme anatomical foreshortening in the torso of the left-hand bather the artist replied that it was in fact possible and that a source existed for it in a pornographic magazine. ‘The often unlikely joining’, Kitaj added, ‘of limbs and postures in Cézanne’s Bather compositions are also entrenched in one’s memory … but the pose was taken from the life.’

Text from the Tate website

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'Cecil Court, London W. C. 2. (The Refugees)' 1983-1984

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
Cecil Court, London W. C. 2. (The Refugees)
1983-1984
Oil on canvas 183 × 183 cm (72 1/16 × 72 1/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1985
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This painting is set in Cecil Court, a street famous for its second-hand bookshops and a favourite haunt of the artist. It is one of many paintings made by Kitaj arising out of an increasing awareness of his own Jewishness. He wrote, ‘I have a lot of experience of refugees from Germany and that’s how this painting came about. My dad and grandmother … just barely escaped.’ The work shows the artist reclining on a sofa while figures from his life pop out of the street behind him. Kitaj has explained that this theatrical composition was inspired by the peripatetic troupes of the Yiddisher Theatre in Central Europe, which he had learned about from his grandparents and from in the diaries of the writer Franz Kafka.

September 2004

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'The Wedding' 1989-1993

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
The Wedding
1989-1993
Oil on canvas
182.9 × 182.9 cm (72 × 72 in.)
Tate: Presented by the artist 1993
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This painting depicts the wedding of Kitaj and the American artist Sandra Fisher (1947-94) which took place in 1983, some six years before this painting was begun. The couple first met in Los Angeles, where Kitaj was teaching. Upon his return to London in 1972, they became reacquainted. Kitaj wrote the following text to accompany the painting’s exhibition in the 1994 Tate Gallery retrospective:
.

Sandra and I were married in the beautiful old Sephardic Synagogue founded in London by Rembrandt’s friend, Menasseh ben Israel. Under the chupa (canopy), aside from my children and the Rabbi in top hat, Freud is on the left, Auerbach in the middle, then Sandra and me, and Hockney (best man) is to the right of us. Kossoff appears at the far right, transcribed from a drawing by John Lessore. I worked on the painting for years and never learned how to finish it even though painter friends, including most of those in the picture, gave me good advice about it which I took up and changed things all the time. In the end, instead of finishing it, I finished with it and gave it away to a deserving old friend.

.
Kitaj has described Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as ‘the most important influence’ on this picture, ‘not a source but a hovering presence’ (unpublished Board note presented to Tate Gallery Trustees, July 1993). The Wedding brings together several crucial themes in Kitaj’s art and thought, including his increasing awareness of his identity as a Jew. The prominent depiction of several of the so-called ‘School of London‘ artists relates to Kitaj’s identification of these artists as part of a group of painters who were linked by friendship, their response to great masters, their emphasis on drawing and their concern with the human subject.

Text from the Tate website

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'My Cities (An Experimental Drama)' 1990-1993

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
My Cities (An Experimental Drama)
1990-1993
Oil on canvas
183.2 × 183.2 cm (72 1/8 × 72 1/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1997
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

For his 1994 Tate Gallery retrospective exhibition, Kitaj wrote the following text to accompany this picture:
.

The three main actors represent myself in youth, middle age and old age. Behind them is a drop-curtain inscribed with historiated capital letters of cities where I’ve lived or loved. Over the course of a few years these capital letters (inspired by William Blake and the paintings of Victor Hugo) have been sublimated by white paint for the most part because they got too emphatic, so not they’re not too easy to read or even see, some of them representing faded (whitened) memories anyway. The idea for the painting comes from a page I’ve kept as long as I can remember, torn from a copy of the old American magazine Theater Arts, showing a scene from what is described as ‘an experimental drama’, ‘A Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden’ by Thornton Wilder. The catwalk stage upon which the figures tread and stumble through life becomes the roof of a baseball dugout in which I’ve tried half-heartedly to draw some of my demons (Don’t Ask!), colourless spectres only thinly isolated from the three leading players above as in a predella.

.
The painting develops an idea in Kitaj’s 1960 A Reconstitution (private collection), whereby the map of the Americas is presented in a radically distorted form. In the earlier work, the map was prominent. In My Cities, however, it is virtually buried, running down the left side of the painting. The contour of the east coast of South America can be seen between the left and central figures. Although My Cities celebrates various places that were of special significance in Kitaj’s life, only the Americas are represented in map form…

Kitaj combines painting and drawing in a manner which recalls the techniques of Cézanne, Degas, Matisse and Giacometti. The lower or predella section of the picture relates to the theme of American baseball, which the artist views as a compelling human drama. The players sit in a limbo-like dugout, awaiting a call which may not come, or which, if it does, may lead to heaven or hell. Combined with the upper section, the predella contributes to a reading of the painting as an allegory of life.

Text from the Tate website

 

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum
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Los Angeles, California 90049

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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