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LGBT History Month: Politics in Art

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Published: 4 February 2022

Painted Pride flag

February in the UK sees the start of a month-long celebration of LGBTQ+ history, celebrating the amazing people that struggled through difficult circumstances to gain recognition.  

This year, LGBT History Month is marking the occasion with the theme of Politics in Art, looking at how art has helped members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community represent their struggles and work towards a better world. 

With that theme in mind, we wanted to highlight some of the most prominent LGBTQ+ artists we think you should know about. 

Romaine Brooks, 1874-1970

Romaine Brooks

This 19th-century American portrait painter was famous for using dark colours, focussing on greys, to create her serious and stern portraits far outside the common style of the time. 

Born Beatrice, but choosing the name Romaine, she was openly lesbian - an extremely difficult thing for the time. 

In 1903 she married the pianist John Ellingham Brooks who was also gay out of a concern for him (rather than the commonly assumed marriage of convenience).  

Find out more about Romaine Brooks, her life and work. 

Simeon Solomon, 1840-1905

Simeon Solomon

Another 19th-century artist, this time from Britain. Solomon was a member of the famous Pre-Raphaelites which included artists like Rosetti and Millais.  

Known for his depictions of Jewish life alongside same-sex desire, he was arrested and later convicted, for having relationships with men. 

His works were popular among major socialites of the time including Oscar Wilde and poet John Addington Symonds. 

Learn more about Simeon Solomon.

Marsha P Johnson, 1945-1992

Marsha P Johnson

Born Malcolm Michaels Jr, Marsha was a gay liberation activist and drag queen, being one of the most prominent campaigners during the Stonewall uprising of 1969. 

She was known for being a tall, slender drag queen using cheaper materials to create a light-hearted show for her guests. 

Sadly, Marsha is perhaps best known for the mysterious circumstances of her death. Found in New York’s Hudson River, the police initially ruled it a suicide despite evidence to the contrary.  

With her prominence as an activist during a time of strong anti-LGBTQ+ bias in both society and the police, questions remain unanswered. 

Learn more about Marsha P Johnson.

Lili Elbe, 1882-1931

Lili Elbe

Danish painter and transgender woman, Lili is one of the first recorded people to go through sex reassignment surgery. 

Made famous in modern times by the film The Danish Girl (2015), she had been a successful artist under her birth name before transitioning.  

Lili died after a failed surgery in 1931.  

Learn more about Lili Elbe.

Leonardo Da Vinci, 1452-1519

Leonardo Da Vinci

Quite possibly the world’s most famous artist, known for being a ‘polymath’ (someone with a high degree of expertise in a number of topics), paintings like The Last Supper and The Mona Lisa, and inventions including a flying machine.  

Less is known about Da Vinci’s personal life, though there are differing accounts as to whether he was gay or possibly asexual. 

In 1476, he was charged with sodomy (the word used at the time for engaging in homosexual acts), but the accusation was dismissed due to the involvement (and influence) of the powerful Medici family.  

Learn more about Leonardo Da Vinci.

Throughout February, we’ll be posting more articles like this, celebrating and marking the impact members of the LGBTQ+ community have had on global society. 

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