Gay artists have faced a daunting dilemma since the beginning of time: keeping their sexuality hidden or being out with their art and lives and, in doing so, risking rejection and even prosecution. This is why many gay artists, who couldn’t express themselves openly, were forced to live double lives. They created mainstream work, which they showed openly, as well as homoerotic work, which they hid, circulated just among a circle of friends, or destroyed.
You might not think there have been many LGBTQ rulers in world history. But you would be wrong! From Alexander the Great’s Macedonia to Mad Ludwig’s Bavaria and beyond, there have been rulers (and members of ruling families) with many different sexualities and gender identities throughout world history. And a number of them, unsurprisingly, have left behind fantastic palaces and castles.
At the end of this very real annus terribilis, I want to say a few words to you, our loyal readers and attendees. Above all, thanks! Thanks for keeping Oscar Wilde Tours alive by reading our blog, attending our Zoom tours, watching our YouTube videos, contributing to our fundraisers—in short, for being a fabulously loyal community. When the pandemic hit the US, in March, it seemed likely to kill the company completely. Who would have thought that 9 months later, as the pandemic continued to rage, we would be putting on our 28th Zoom tour, with audiences regularly over 100, and have gathered over 28,000 views for our videos? It’s been a hard year, but ours is a tiny, flourishing corner. And we have a lot more coming after the holidays! Want to find out more?
In a little over 100 years, between 1861 and 1967, Britain went from punishing male homosexuality with the death penalty to decriminalisation across the vast majority of the country. That may seem like a glacial pace but when we consider the World Health Organisation didn’t officially declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder until 1992, the UK seems ahead of its time. One of the easiest ways to trace the societal and legal shift in attitudes towards sexuality that took place in the UK at this time is to look at the artistic output of the nation. To see how British society went from treating artists like Oscar Wilde and Simeon Solomon as criminals, whose careers were both ruined by ‘gross indecency’ trials, to accepting and embracing artists like David Hockney and Francis Bacon as national heroes is a fascinating journey, and one on which we can all travel thanks to the work of the Tate gallery in London.
Penises in art are a bigger theme than you might think. After all, what is the number one question people ask in the Greek and Roman collection of any museum? There is no competition: why the penises in Classical art are smaller than real-life average adult penises. And the second is: whether Christians really broke off the penises that are missing from so many male nude statues.
Over the last few years, several museums in Europe have organized an LGBT trail, i.e. a self-guided trail following LGBT themes through the museums’ collections. The British Museum and the Prado are both prominent examples. No museum in the US has ever put together such a trail until now, when the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford has launched one. The trail, called “Out On View,” covers 16 artworks spread through the museum.
The Wadsworth has a particularly rich LGBT collection. This is partly due to the influence of the Director in the 20’s-40’s, A, Everett “Chick” Austin. Austin was an important member of the (closeted) LGBT art scene in pre-war New York. He created a connection between the Wadsworth and a number of prominent LGBT artists of his day, while also purchasing a number of homoerotic works for the collection from earlier periods. It is an ideal museum for America’s first LGBT trail.
Why is Greece a great place for travel? Well, it doesn’t hurt that Greece has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and that some of them–especially Mykonos–have a wild gay club scene. But there is another, fascinating level to Greece for the gay traveler, because travel to Greece is all about its ancient culture and the glorious ruins it left behind.
Traveling to Europe this summer? Want to do something gay? Here is a suggestion. Along with going to a gay bar and chatting with the locals, how about looking up your destination’s gay history and trying to see some things connected to it? It might take some deep research, but you can find out not only about local gay politics now, but also things like Shakespeare’s sexuality or the world of fashionable lesbians in 19th century Paris—and make your trip that much more interesting. As a historian, I can tell you that it is a mistake to assume that history is straight; and as an *art* historian, I suggest you keep an eye on the art museums, where LGBTQ themes are often present!
In many of Europe’s major cities, there are monuments that have gay connections and also interesting places or artworks with gay connections that you might never see if you don’t look into their gay side. This is particularly true in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples and Athens—but there are interesting connections to gay history in many other places. Look into it! You never know what you will find.
Want to read more? See Professor Lear on the blog of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association.
The world’s art museums are full of Gay Secrets. These two gorgeous objects from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston are a great example. They are the kind of things you would just glance at in a museum—and then you’d move on to something you knew more about. But hold on a minute! Both belonged to a man named William Beckford (see the portrait from the UK’s National Portrait Gallery above)—who was the subject of the biggest gay scandal in 18th century England.
The ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans—think of Julius Caesar and Nero, etc.—plus all those Renaissance artists—Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Caravaggio: did it ever occur to you how much Italian gay history and art there is? Well, let us tell you: Italy not only has some of the most beautiful cities, the most great art, one of the world’s top cuisines, some of the cutest guys. It also has one of the most fascinating, long, and varied *gay* histories, from the ancient Greeks to the Etruscans and Romans to the Italian Renaissance, to modern gay greats like Pasolini, Versace, and Valentino. And there are great monuments and works of art connected with every period of it, which you can easily see on a trip to Italy, if you know where to look.