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Bathing by Duncan Grant, 1911, oil paint on canvas | Courtesy of Tate
Bathing by Duncan Grant, 1911, oil paint on canvas | Courtesy of Tate
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Queer British Art Show To Lead The Way At Tate Britain

Picture of Miranda Hill
Updated: 4 May 2016
For many, the 60s hark back to a time when Britain shook off the curbs of Victorian prudery and challenged the strict moralities that shaped the lives of Victorian Britain. But it’s a sad and hideous reality that only 50 years ago, a man could be locked up for expressing an interest in another man – publicly scrutinised, ostracised and vilified for simply looking “a bit gay”. Homosexuality went against the notions of masculinity in Victorian Britain and coming out risked ruining your life and that of your family, crushing every inch of your self-worth. These were ‘crimes’ that fuelled the mind-set that to be ‘gay’ was a disorder unworthy of mention, but it also sparked change. By 1861, the death penalty for buggery was formally abolished, in favour of life imprisonment and finally decriminalised in 1967.

It’s been 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales and to celebrate, Tate Britain, as part of its 2017 programme, will be putting on the first exhibition of its kind dedicated to the subject. The exhibition, to be named, Queer British Art, will exhibit the work of artists including David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Keith Vaughan, Duncan Grant and Ethel Sands, whose works challenge traditional ideas of sexual identity through depicting different sexualities and desires, in and outside of the home. For example, Duncan Grant’s homoerotic panorama depicting seven nudists bathing, the caress of Simeon Solomon’s Sappho and Erinna in an edenic sexual paradise and Ethel Sand’s pastel-painted tea for the mischievous three.

Francis Bacon | © cea/Flickr
Francis Bacon | © cea/Flickr

As a time remembered by many for the moments spent tiptoeing through the world of homosexuality, curator Clare Barlow explains that the exhibition will inevitably have its moments of gloom and sadness, but will also highlight the images of strength and happiness that led a nation to wake up and put an end to the madness. Reporting to The Guardian, Barlow said, ‘There is definitely a bit of torture and misery in the show’, ‘but it will be a show with a lot of quieter moments and really beautiful moments, and art which just celebrates the humdrum, the backdrop to people’s everyday lives, the houses they shared with their lovers. That is often every bit as radical as the stories and court cases we gasp over.’

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene by Simeon Solomon, 1864, watercolour on paper | Courtesy of Tate
Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene by Simeon Solomon, 1864, watercolour on paper | Courtesy of Tate

Clare maintained that the show ‘goes to the core of a lot of debates in society today’ and will ask us to think about ‘how does our sexuality or gender identity relate to our self? It will offer a lot of different possible answers to that question’.

Part of a very exciting programme at the Tate, Queer British Art will run from April to October 2017 and will follow the gallery’s retrospective of David Hockney opening in February.

5 April – 1 October 2017

Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG

Miranda Hill