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Lest We Forget: Tate Britain Celebrate Queer Art

Life has never been easy for queer, or LGBT (initials that stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people, as they started to identify in the 1990s. To mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales, Tate Britain will host the first exhibition dealing exclusively with queer British art: Queer British Art 1861-1967 will be open from 5th April 2017 to 1st October 2017.

Homosexuality between men was criminalised at the Roman conquest of Britain, and punishable with death by hanging, as a result of King Henry VIII’s Buggery Act 1533 – until 1861, when the death penalty for such offences was removed. From 1806 to its abolition in 1861, a total of 8921 men have been prosecuted for sodomy (a term used interchangeably in law and popular speech) with 404 men sentenced to death and 56 executed. James Pratt and John Smith were the last two men to be executed for sodomy, in 1835.

However, the persecution of gay men didn’t end there. One of the most famous British writers, Oscar Wilde, was sentenced in 1895 to two years in prison with hard labour, for ‘gross indecency’ in his (in)famous relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. The exhibition will display the door from Wilde’s prison cell. In 1952, Alan Turing, the famous mathematician and war-time codebreaker, was also convicted in 1952 of ‘gross indecency’; he accepted treatment with female hormones instead of going to prison, only to commit suicide two years later.

It wasn’t until 1967 that the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexual acts between two men over 21 years of age, in private, in England and Wales. In Scotland, it remained illegal until 1981; in Northern Ireland until 1982. Funnily enough, lesbian acts have never been illegal. A portrait by Charles A. Buchel of English novelist and poet Radclyffe Hall, who lived openly with a woman and became famous for her frank portrayal of lesbian relationships in her semi-autobiographic novel, The Well of Loneliness (1928), will also be on display.

Solomon, Simeon 1840-1905
Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene 
Watercolour on paper 
330 x 381 mm 
Tate. Purchased 1980
Solomon, Simeon 1840-1905

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene


Watercolour on paper

330 x 381 mm

Tate. Purchased 1980
Self portrait and Nude 1913

Laura Knight (1877-1970)



Oil on canvas

152.4 x 127.6 cm

National Portrait Gallery (London, UK)

From 5th April 2017, Tate Britain will celebrate the fact that 50 years have passed since decriminalisation – and LGBT rights started to be increasingly strengthened in support – by displaying works created between 1861 and 1967 for the LGBT movement, by artists with diverse sexualities and gender identities; from Simeon Solomon’s Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene (1864), which covertly features images of same-sex desire, to David Hockney’s Going to be a Queen for Tonight, painted in 1960, when queer culture started to be openly appreciated.


John Craxton

Head of a Greek Sailor


Oil on board

330 x 305 mm

London Borough of Camden

© Estate of John Craxton. All rights reserved, DACS 2016. Photo credit: London Borough of Camden
Hannah Gluckstein 1985-1978

Gluck 1942

Oil on canvas

306 x 254 mm

© National Portrait Gallery

Among the exhibition highlights will be works by major artists such as Francis Bacon, Keith Vaughan, Evelyn de Morgan, Gluck, Glyn Philpot, Claude Cahun and Cecil Beaton, alongside queer ephemera, personal photographs, film and magazines.


David Hockney

Life Painting for a Diploma


Yageo Foundation

© Yageo Foundation
ID 19

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929)

The Critics


Oil on board

412 x 514 mm

Warwick District Council (Leamington Spa, UK)

Queer British Art 1861-1967 is curated by Clare Barlow and Amy Concannon, both Assistant Curators at Tate Britain. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing, and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

ID 71

Paul Tanqueray (1905-1991)

Douglas Byng


Vintage bromide print

239 x 193 mm

National Portrait Gallery

© Estate of Paul Tanqueray
ID 112

Angus McBean (1904-1990)

Quentin Crisp


Bromide print

National Portrait Gallery (London, UK)

© Estate of Angus McBean / National Portrait Gallery, London

SEEN can’t wait to visit this first-ever exhibition dedicated to queer British art. It’s so important to remember those groundbreakers. Stay tuned to know more details, as the opening day approaches. You can now go ahead and book your tickets here.

Keith Vaughan

Drawing of two men kissing


Tate Archive

© DACS, The Estate of Keith Vaughan

Queer British Art 1861-1967
5th April – 1st October 2017

Tate Britain