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5 Famous British LGBT+ artists you should know about

5 Famous British LGBT+ artists you should know about

February is LGBT+ History Month, so we take a look at five famous British LGBT+ artists, including Francis Bacon and David Hockney

LGBT+ History Month is perfect timing to reflect on key lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans artists who have forged a place in history. British artists have certainly played their part and sometimes caused quite a stir. Here are five of the big hitters and their ground-breaking paintings.

Duncan Grant (1885-1978) 

Duncan Grant with John Maynard Keynes

Duncan Grant and John Maynard Keynes © Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the Bloomsbury group, British artist Duncan Grant is known for post-impressionist style paintings and textile designs. Grant had relationships with notable figures including his cousin, the writer Lytton Strachey, and economist John Maynard Keynes. With bisexual leanings too, he had a daughter, Angelica, with Venessa Bell.

As for Grant’s art, Bathing (1911) is probably his most homoerotic, even if Edwardian society was in denial. Naked, male bathers strike suggestive poses as they dive in choppy waters. Bathing was commissioned as a mural for Borough Polytechnic on the theme, “London on Holiday”. In the 1950s Grant painted more murals, this time for Lincolnshire Cathedral, modelling Christ on his lover Paul Roche.  

Marlow Moss (1889-1958) 

A lesser-known LGBT artist, Marlow (Marjorie Jewel) Moss was a British Constructivist (abstract socialist) and central to European Modernism. She belonged to the avant-garde in Paris, mixing with the likes of Fernand Léger, Le Corbusier and Fausto Melotti. With Piet Mondrian she developed her distinctive style using geometric lines and squares on white or primary colours: Composition in White, Red and Grey (1935); White and Yellow (1935).  

"Marlow refused to be defined sexually or conform in society"

Photographs of Moss, taken by the son of her lover Netty Nijhoff, show her in a man’s suit with cropped hair. Her life and personal style are reflected in her art. Marlow rejected traditional painting (representational and figurative), just as she refused to be defined sexually or conform in society. 

Gluck (1895–1978)

Gluck (painter)

Romaine Brooks' portrait of Gluck, titled Peter (A Young English Girl) (1923–1924) © Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The artist Gluck, born Hannah Gluckstein, changed her name at the age of 23 with no “suffix, prefix or quotes,” thereby forging her identity in LGBT+ history as one of the first androgynous artists. She also cut her hair short and smoked a pipe. Her paintings include landscapes—Cornwall Landscape (1968) and St Buryan (1968)—and plenty of luminous flowers—Chromatic (1932); Convolvulus (1940).  

Her flower paintings were as a testament to her great love, the society florist Constance Spry. Flora's Cloak (c.1923) is a painting of the naked goddess in a cloak of flowers, owned and treasured by Spry. But it is Medallion (1936), a double head portrait of herself and her lover Nesta Obermer in profile that cements Gluck as one of the greatest LGBT+ artists. 

Her biographer Diana Souhami points out, “The significance of Medallion was not openly discussed when Gluck painted it in 1936. Male homosexuality was a criminal offence. There was no acceptable vocabulary for being lesbian or transgendered.”

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

Francis Bacon, an Irish-born, British figurative painter, is known for his abstract, unsettling imagery. In 1963 he met George Dyer and they became lovers, until Dyer took his own life in Paris in 1971. The Sexual Offences Act legalised homosexuality in 1967, but the couple lived for many years under the repressive social mores of the 1960s.  

"Francis Bacon is known for his abstract, unsettling imagery"

Bacon’s 40 portraits of Dyer include the triptych Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, painted in 1963. It was once owned by Roald Dahl and sold for $51.8 million by Christie’s in 2017. Bacon also painted more sexually explicit subjects, including Two Figures (1953). The painting, bought by his friend, the great figurative artist Lucien Freud, depicts two naked men on a bed gripping each other in ecstasy.  

David Hockney (born 1937) 

The Yorkshire artist David Hockney first made a name in Pop Art as part of the Young Contemporaries exhibition. We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961) and Cleaning Teeth, Early Evening (10pm) W11 (1962) are particularly cutting edge, punky images of gay men. But it is Hockney’s time in California in the 1960s and 1970s when he produced his most iconic LGBT+ themed works. Hockney focussed on the domestic LGBT+ experience. He painted men in pools and showers—Man in Shower in Beverly Hills (1964) and Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1971) (of himself and his partner Peter Schlesinger).

"Hockney focussed on the domestic LGBT+ experience"

Hockney’s Domestic Scene, Los Angeles (1963) is perhaps his most seminal painting as a gay artist. It is a playful depiction of domestic life showing two men showering, one in a pretty apron and white socks scrubbing the other’s back. He painted men simply sitting together—Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy (1968)—which seems quite innocuous to the contemporary viewer, but at a time when homosexuality was just about legal, it was a clear, bold statement placing homosexuality on the canvas. 

There are several other British artists worth mentioning and finding out more about for LGBT+ History Month, including Dora Carrington, Gilbert and George, and Derek Jarman.

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