Queer Art

I originally thought I wanted to share something contemporary. Raise the profile of someone currently creating.

But the thing is, I love Art, I love Art History, that hasn’t changed since I was eighteen, well it might have deepened somewhat. There’s a period I have loved since I did my A Level personal project on it and that’s the mid to late nineteenth century.

Now it’s pretty fashionable to talk about the Impresionists but I love the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They go in and out of fashion, but generally speaking in the art world they’re not only regarded as populist but (unlike the Impressionists) also as inauthentically populist.

I could go on forever about why that is but today I want to talk about the queer artist who was friendly with several of the founders of the movement and who created several pieces emphatically influenced by their principles.

Simeon Solomon, gay and Jewish, so nineteenth century society was not a great place for him. Now queer artists, especially if they have to be closeted within a repressive society, do not always create queer art.

Simeon Solomon ended up imprisoned a great deal, he was as close to being out as you can get in a society like Britain at the end of the 19th century. And that meant persecuted by the authorities. He did not go as far as Aubrey Beardsley in portraying gay love in his work but what he did was portray women together. In true Pre-Raphaelite fashion these women are fairly close to androgynous and as an exhibiting artist (rather than an illustrator as Beardsley was primarily) putting two men in there would have got him locked up again.

In The Temple Of Venus, 1863

In The Temple of Venus isn’t one of his most passionate pieces, instead its full of quiet signifiers of love between the two women. As with any Pre-Raphaelite piece it’s worth looking at the flowers and what the women are holding. To me this picture is painted by a man who knows what it’s like to have to keep love quiet. There’s something about her hand on her arm that really speaks to me.

Now it’s difficult to gay overtly gay male themes into Victorian art but Solomon did manage it.

The Bride, Bridegroom and Sad Love, 1865

If this isn’t a picture about the misery inherent in taking a Beard rather than a partner I don’t know what love is. And frankly those hands over Love’s genitals look like they know what they’re doing which is unlike any hands doing anything if painted by Rossetti.

But I saved the Queerest for last. Here’s the passion, and as a queer man he couldn’t paint this between men but he could between women, because being queer in public spaces has historically benefited from appealing to straight Male titillation.

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene, 1864

Now that is some queer desire going on, and of course it’s the most famous woman writing about lesbian desires in ancient history. Sappho.

So yeah, that’s the Queer Art I’m sharing today and I’ll finish with Sappho’s words on Queer Love.

“Sweet Mother, I cannot weave,

Slender Aphrodite has overcome me

with longing for a girl.”

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