Ferens Art Gallery LGBTQ+ Gallery Trail

Posted: 11th July 2021

Humber Museums Partnership - Ferens Art Gallery LGBTQ+ Gallery Trail

Launching in celebration of Creative Hull weekend, the Ferens Art Gallery LGBTQ+ Gallery Trail highlights queer narratives in the gallery’s collection and invites you to consider key themes and histories, to get you thinking and chatting about art, identity, gender and sexuality.

Antonio Maria MARAGLIANO 1664-1739
Hercules c.1700
Polychrome wood

The story of the Roman demi-god Hercules details that he had relationships with both women and men, and he was, if we were to use today’s terminology, bisexual.

Hercules married four times and had numerous affairs with other women. His relationships with men are often described as shows of masculinity and warriorship, yet it is also detailed that a number of these relationships included feelings of love.

Hercules had a male companion called Hylas who he taught to be a warrior. The Sicilian poet Theocritus wrote about their love, describing how Hercules loved the ‘charming Hylas, whose hair hung down in curls’. Ultimately Hylas was abducted by water nymphs and was never to be seen again, leaving Hercules heartbroken.

It is interesting to consider how non-heterosexual appearing relationships are often attributed to something other than romantic. Do you think this is something that continues today? How can we work towards ensuring all relationships are viewed as valid and equal?

Nicolas REGNIER c.1591-1667
Saint Sebastian Tended by the Holy Irene c.1625
Oil on canvas

Saint Sebastian is often referred to as the patron saint of homosexuality and a gay icon. He is usually depicted as a young, shirtless man, retaining his beauty despite the pain he is enduring. Some would deem this representation as an illustration of the homoerotic ideal.

This, coupled with his support for those suffering from the plague, could explain his popularity with the queer community. Homosexuality was historically considered a disease-like affliction, so the parallels can easily be made.

As a gay icon, Saint Sebastian has brought comfort to many. He inspired queer narratives within the work of William Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams, and playwright Oscar Wilde even adopted the name Sebastian after his release from prison following a conviction for ‘gross indecency’.

When we think of modern-day queer icons, we may think of Lady Gaga, Sir Ian McKellen, or Diana, Princess of Wales. Representation and allyship are important and seeing this within popular media is often the first connection people make with their own identities. If you have an icon that you look up to, for inspiration, comfort, or validation, how would you describe their importance to you?

Jacob de WIT 1695-1754
Jupiter and Ganymede 1739
Oil on canvas

The Trojan Prince Ganymede was known as ‘the most beautiful of mortals’, and many of the gods on Mount Olympus were attracted to him. One day Zeus – also known as Jupiter – saw that Ganymede was alone tending to livestock, and so instructed an eagle to abduct the prince and bring Ganymede to Zeus. Although, some versions of this story suggest that Zeus transformed into the eagle himself.

There are differing versions of Zeus’ motive for taking Ganymede to be with him. In the earliest versions of this story there is no sexual motivation, however, by Plato’s time this story revolved around male same-sex love or desire, with either a negative view detailing it as an abomination or quite the opposite, as the highest form of spirituality.

Sexuality and gender-identity continue to be discussed in this way, and globally 69 countries still have laws that criminalise homosexuality. How might your life, or the lives of your friends, family or colleagues, be different if homosexuality was still classed as a crime in the UK?

Rosa BONHEUR 1822-1899
The Lion at Home 1881
Oil on canvas

Rosa Bonheur lived with her partner Nathalie Micas for over 40 years. Bonheur’s openness about her sexuality was an incredible act of bravery as at the time lesbian relationships were viewed as immoral.
Bonheur defied gender norms of the time and in 1852 she obtained a special police permit to wear men’s clothing – referring to women’s clothing as a ‘constant bother’.

It is thought the decree requiring women to obtain a permit to wear men’s clothing might have been to stop gatherings of feminists or queer women, who may have been inclined, or perceived, to dress in a masculine fashion. It is therefore significant that we consider how such discriminatory regulations would have disproportionately affected LGBTQ+ women and non-binary people of the time.

How would this affect you, should you be told you could no longer wear the clothes that make you comfortable? Can you see similarities in the way many are discriminated against today for expressing their identities visually through dress, costume or make up?

Auguste MAILLARD 1864-1944
Joan of Arc – Farewell to the Flock c.1923
Siena marble

Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc) was burnt at the stake as an alleged witch and died 30 May 1431, aged only 19.

Believing she was chosen by God to lead the French against an English attempt to conquer France during the Hundred Years’ War, Jeanne began wearing male clothing to secure a military escort, a request that had previously been denied. Appearing more masculine perhaps afforded her the perception of authority and she went on to lead the French army to victory at Orléans in 1429.

In May 1430 she was captured and tried for heresy. She was accused of witchcraft and charged with ‘leaving off the dress and clothing of the feminine sex’ and with wearing ‘clothing and armour such as is worn by man.’ Despite being convicted and her life being at risk, she refused to wear ‘female dress’, preferring to present more masculine.

The way we present ourselves externally is an extension of how we feel inside. Many trans and non-binary people are discriminated against simply for this act of self-expression. Have gendered stereotypes or expectations ever shaped or limited your self-expression?

Roger FRY 1866-1934
Julian, the Artist’s Son, Aged 10 1911
Oil on canvas

Artist and critic Roger Fry was a central figure in the Bloomsbury group – an unconventional group of creatives who were progressive in their approach to art, lifestyle, and sexuality. Fry’s aesthetic theory greatly influenced the Bloomsbury group, particularly artist Duncan Grant who was attracted to Fry’s modernist style which seemed to him both sensual and free.

Fry himself was heterosexual, but attracted great affection from both men and women throughout his life. Fry maintained lifelong friendships with many of these love interests, including fellow members of the Bloomsbury group Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. Fluid partnerships were common within the Bloomsbury group, and there was no judgement from within the group with regard to anyone’s sexuality or relationship status.

Using today’s terminology we might refer to Fry as a proud ally of the LGBTQ+ community, given his accepting outlook and his love for his many LGBTQ+ friends and partners. It is interesting to consider the role language plays in shaping our identities. What terms are important to you when you consider your own identity?

Duncan GRANT 1885-1978
Haystacks 1933
Oil on canvas

Duncan Grant was one of the key artists in the Bloomsbury group – a group of artists, writers and thinkers who were radical in the development of twentieth-century art, design and literature. The Bloomsbury group had an open and progressive attitude towards sexuality and pursued sexual, social and artistic freedom. This has established the Bloomsbury group as a key part of Britain’s queer history.

Grant himself was bisexual and had many romantic connections throughout his life, including a life-long, open relationship with fellow artist Vanessa Bell. Grant and Bell’s domestic and creative partnership lasted over 50 years and, in 1916, they relocated to Charleston farmhouse in Sussex. Charleston soon became the country home of the Bloomsbury group. Its rural setting is captured here in this bright landscape.

Grant was confident in his sexuality and was accepted by the Bloomsbury group who valued relationships in many forms. Acceptance of ourselves and by others can play a significant part in our lives. If you were to paint a place where you feel comfortable enough to be your authentic self, where would it be?

Pop along to Ferens Art Gallery to explore the other works on display as part of the LGBTQ+ Gallery Tour and experience the collection through a queer lens!

Plan your visit at www.hcandl.co.uk/museums-and-galleries/ferens/ferens-art-gallery