From April 5, the London-based museum is hosting its first exhibition dedicated to queer British art. The exhibition features work from a host of major artists, from Francis Bacon and Virginia Woolf to Pre-Raphaelite painters, and marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales.
“Queer British Art 1861-1967” has two historical reference points, presenting work from the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy in 1861 to the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967. These events had profound effects on British society and were also expressed through the arts.
The exhibition features work by artists with diverse sexualities and gender identities, and presents both covert images of same-sex desire, like “Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene” by Simeon Solomon, or overt celebrations of queer culture, such as “Going to be a Queen for Tonight” by David Hockney.
A section of the exhibition focuses on the Bloomsbury Group, a set of artists famous for their bohemian attitude towards sexuality, with paintings of lovers, scenes of homes artists shared with partners, and paintings by Duncan Grant and Ethel Walker.
Many of the works featured in the exhibition were created at a time when the terms bisexual, gay or lesbian were little-known to the public. “Queer British Art 1861-1967” explores how notions of sexuality became defined through the work of sexologists like Henry Havelock Ellis and campaigners like Edward Carpenter.
Oscar Wilde notably features in the exhibition, with a full-length portrait of the writer exhibited in the UK for the first time, as well as the door of prison cell C.3.3 where Wilde was jailed from 1895 to 1897 for committing acts of “gross indecency.”
Another section of the exhibition explores queer culture in the world of theater, where music-hall acts offered a platform for the expression of sexuality and gender.
“Queer British Art 1861-1967” runs April 5 to October 1, 2017, at Tate Britain, London.
More information: www.tate.org.uk
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