Out & Proud in the Modern British Art Scene

Launch Slideshow

Marking the 50th Anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England, Tate Britain’s exhibition Queer British Art looks at how the work of artists, filmmakers and photographers shifted, challenging the law, and assisting in bringing about a change in social attitudes. Here we take a look at some of the works that explore these themes, which are to be included in Sotheby’s 13 September Made in Britain auction, on public view from 8 September.

Made in Britain
13 September 2017 | London

Out & Proud in the Modern British Art Scene

  • David Hockney, R.A., Portrait of Cavafy, 1966.
    Estimate £1,200–1,800.
    Conceived as one of thirteen etchings Hockney produced for Illustrations for Fourteen Poems from C. P. Cavafy, Hockney updated the poet’s imagery, with the subjects and scenes providing visual equivalents to the themes portrayed within Cavafy’s homoerotic poetry. The series were published in 1966, the year before The Sexual Offences Act was passed.

  • Howard Hodgkin, DH in Hollywood, 1979-85.
    Estimate £1,200–1,800.
    Hockney first visited Los Angeles in 1964, drawn to the freedom and bright, bold culture that abounded in the States at the time. To Hockney it was a place that he could, quite openly, be himself, and this in turn affected the art that he created there.

    Produced in 1979, DH in Hollywood , was made by Hockney’s close friend Howard Hodgkin, who together with the artist Peter Blake visited Hockney in Los Angeles in the 1970s.

  • Patrick Procktor, R.A., Still Life, circa 1970s.
    Estimate £2,000–3,000.
    Another close friend of David Hockney, Patrick Procktor rose to prominence in the 1960s and ‘70s, becoming close friends with artists, photographers and writes including Cecil Beaton, Derek Jarman and Joe Orton. Vocal about his sexual orientation, Procktor refused to alter his style to fit themes, trends of fads of the time, and instead followed his own approach, which gradually became more fine in style, and increasingly reliant on a subject matter that centred around gay life in London and Europe.

  • David Hockney, R.A., Peter Showering in Paris, 1976.
    Estimate £1,500–2,000.
    Depicting his boyfriend and muse Peter Schlesinger, Peter Showering in Paris was published in 1976, four years after the artist captured Peter in one of his most celebrated paintings Portrait of an Artist (Pool  with Two Figures), a study for which was offered at Sotheby’s in June this year. The painting was based on the pool of his close friend, the film director Tony Richardson, who allowed Hockney to use the house in the South of France together with other friends including Patrick Procktor, Celia Birtwell, Ossie Clark and Hockney’s then dealer Kasmin. In the present work, as in Portrait of an Artist, Hockney explores the relationship between artist and subject – photographer and muse – as well as his recently discovered passion for photography – an aspect that would go on to become a major exponent within his artistic output.

  • Terry O’Neill, Elton John Flying, 1972.
    Estimate £1,800–2,300.
    In 2009 London’s National Portrait Gallery held the ground-breaking exhibition Gay Icons, in which it asked ten prominent figures to select their ‘gay icons’. As a member of the panel, Elton John ’s choices were as broad and diverse as one might imagine – including John Lennon, Gianni Versace and footballer and manager Graham Taylor.

    Himself an icon to millions all across the globe, in an open letter earlier this year John wrote: “Thank you for accepting me – even when others didn’t. Thank you for never judging – even when times were tough. Thank you for always embracing my music – even after all these years… You’ve showed the world that people of all creeds, colours, and cultures can come together to enjoy the music of an openly gay artist like me. And more than that, you’ve showed the world that we are all worthy of love.”

  • Michael Leonard, Scaffolders, 1978.
    Estimate £3,000–5,000.
    The male nude has remained one of Michael Leonard’s most recognised and celebrated motifs. Perhaps best known for both his illustrations, including for the 1977 book The Joy of Gay Sex, Leonard went on to depict some of the nation’s most recognised figures, including The Queen.

    His soft, dusty palette and his use of photorealism within his paintings and drawings have won him international acclaim, whilst celebrating the male form.

    “My pictures are about celebration – I hope they have enough intensity and inner life to persist in the imagination.”

  • Christopher Wood, Man with Swans and Duck, 1930.
    Estimate £1,200–1,800.
    One of the most influential British artists of the early part of the twentieth-century and the subject of a recent retrospective at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, Christopher Wood was a close friend of Jean Cocteau, spending time mingling in his artistic circles in Paris.

    Drawn to the masculine physicality of Breton and Cornish fishermen , he wrote in 1927 ‘the men are fishermen, great big, sometimes small, but beautifully proportioned, [with] bronze limbs [that] come out of their blue or white canvas trousers and striped vests’.

    Torn between lovers - both male and female - and becoming increasingly reliant on opium, Wood eventually ended his life by throwing himself in front of a train at Salisbury in 1930, aged just thirty.

  • Roland Penrose, Untitled. Estimate £600–800.
    Artist, poet and historian Roland Penrose was a leading figure in the British Surrealist movement, and later went on to help found the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1946. Much has been written on Penrose’s relationships, both with his wives the poet Valentine Boue and the photographer Lee Miller, but also on the free-flowing approaches that abounded in the Surrealist group of the period, and his broader circle of friends, including the artist and poet Roy Edwards, who was gifted by the present work by the artist.

  • John Craxton, Boy Resting, 1950s.
    Estimate £6,000–8,000.
    Featured within the current Tate exhibition Queer British Art, John Craxton was drawn to the male subject throughout the course of his career, both pre- and post-legalisation. Together with his close friend Lucian Freud he explored Greece in the late 1940s, and began what was to be a life-long love affair with the exoticism, warmth and colour of the Mediterranean climate, not to mention the plethora of bronzed Aegean sailors, shepherds and fishermen!

  • Beryl Cook, In The Club, 1986.
    Estimate £10,000–15,000.
    Used on the cover of Patrick Gale’s first novel, The Aerodynamics of Pork, Beryl Cook’s In the Club captures a buzzing scene with female subjects drinking, smoking and flirting in her characteristic style of bright, bold and colourful characters.

    Gale, who’s later novel The Man in the Orange Shirt was televised as part of the BBC’s Gay Generation series, wrote The Aerodynamics of Pork in 1985, in part as a way of subverting the then recently launched Betty Trask prize - a prize which was then solely for romantic fiction.


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