LGBT History of Art

Written by Arts

Your Arts sub-editors give a timeline of LGBT artists throughout history for LGBT History Month

Michelangelo (1475 – 1564)

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni is one of the most acclaimed artists in history. He painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, sculpted the monumental figure of David, and was referred to as ‘The Divine One’. His work typified the Renaissance movement, with focus on natural light and the beauty of nature. His poetry revealed his love of male beauty, and same-sex attraction.  

The flesh now earth, and here my bones,

 Bereft of handsome eyes, and jaunty air,

Still loyal are to him I joyed in bed,

Whom I embraced, in whom my soul now lives.

Claude Cahun (1894-1954)

One of the few female Surrealists, Cahun was a French photographer, sculptor and writer who challenged traditional views of gender and identity, adopting a gender neutral name and exploring an array of personas in their self-portraits. Along with their life-long partner Suzanne, they were actively involved in resisting the Nazi Occupation, spending almost a year in separate cells.

Hannah Höch (1889-1978)

Höch was a bisexual German artist in the Dada movement (an anti-establishment movement portraying nonsense and protest in work spanning collage, sculpture and multi-media) and one of the originators of photomontage. Her work actively challenged the role of women at the time, and she was also one of the first artists to include popular culture in her art. Much of her work questions gender, sex, and race, with androgynous bodies included in some works. Unfortunately, her revolutionary work was often pushed aside in favour of her male compatriots, and she was only popularised as an avant-garde icon ten years after her death.

Frida Kahlo  (1907-1954)

Kahlo was a Mexican artist, identifiable by her mono brow and colourful style. A queer icon – she had relationships with men and women – she also dealt with disability for much of her life. Her surrealist self-portraits confront themes of identity, disability, femininity and sexuality, and are clearly influenced by Mexican folk art and global politics.

Robert Rauschenberg (born Milton Ernst Rauschenberg) (1925-2008)

“The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history.”

An American artist who was most prominent during the 1950s transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art, making his most famous work the ‘Combines’ during this period. In 1953 he also notoriously erased a drawing by de Kooning. In 1964 he was the first American artist to win the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale. He had an eight-year romantic and professional relationship with Jasper Johns, and a romantic relationship with other fellow artist Cy Twombly after his divorce from painter Susan Weil. His son Christopher Rauschenberg, and partner of 25 years and former assistant, artist Darryl Pottorf, survive him.

David Hockney (1937-present)

One of the most prolific living gay artists, Hockey became famous in the 60s when he helped popularise British pop art. He began displaying his work while at the Royal College of Arts in London in 1949, a time when homosexuality was still criminalised in Britain. Never shying away from the male form, much of Hockney’s art is a dedication to tender moments of queer domesticity. His most famous and popular works use swimming pools as a focal point, one of which – Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) – recently broke the auction record for a work by a living artist at $90m (£70m).


Last modified: 21st April 2020

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