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Perspectives

Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.

A stage filled with actors dressed in drag, dancing, talking and kissing.

Pallant House Gallery acquires paintings of first gay kiss in British theatre

[ Essay )

Marking Pride Month 2020, we're delighted to announce the acquisition of a series of paintings depicting the first gay kiss and drag ball in British theatre.

The five works by British artist Leonard Rosoman R.A (1913-2012) have been acquired from the estate of the artist’s widow Roxanne Wruble Rosoman (1937-2018) through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme.

The five paintings created as part of Rosoman’s A Patriot for Me series are based on John Osborne’s controversial play of the same name, which was first performed at the Royal Court in 1965. They were exhibited together for the first time in over 40 years in our 2018 exhibition Leonard Rosoman: Painting Theatre.

A crowded stage filled with actors in elaborate drag and other costumes. A purple curtain obscures the top half of the stage.

Courtesy of Roxanne Rosoman, Photography Dawkins Colour / John Bodkin © The Artist’s Estate

While the play was initially banned by the Lord Chamberlain’s office for its homosexual content, a legal loophole was exploited which turned the theatre into a private club for the play’s duration. It would help pave the way for the 1968 Theatres Act which abolished censorship of theatre.

Rosoman attended the first performance of his friend Osborne’s exploration of gay life – inspired by the true story of the disgraced Austro-Hungarian army officer, Colonel Redl – returning every evening for a fortnight to create drawings by torchlight.

Two years later these drawings would form the basis for Rosoman’s series of 40 paintings and gouaches. Dominated by two major paintings on the play’s famous ‘drag ball’ scene, these large canvases show a bustling stage filled with cross-dressed men, a development of Rosoman’s interest in multi-figure composition.

A stage filled with actors dressed in drag, dancing, talking and kissing.

Leonard Rosoman, The Drag Ball, No. 2, 1967-8 Courtesy of Roxanne Rosoman, Photography Dawkins Colour / John Bodkin © The Artist’s Estate

With their use of a box-like stage setting, the works continue the tradition of the theatrical conversation piece, a genre most often associated with William Hogarth and Johan Zoffany. Notable British actors of the period are depicted, including the Royal Court’s Director George Devine in drag as the aristocratic Baron von Epp, Rosoman’s friend Jill Bennet as Countess Sophia and the German actor Maximilian Schell, playing the role of doomed Colonel Redl.

Painting by Leonard Rosoman depicting a man dressed in drag standing beneath a candelabra. The top of the painting is slightly obscured by a stage curtain

Courtesy of Roxanne Rosoman, Photography Dawkins Colour / John Bodkin © The Artist’s Estate

Pallant House Gallery Director Simon Martin has commented: “We are thrilled to acquire Leonard Rosoman’s A Patriot for Me paintings. Not only are they among his finest works, but they have a particular significance to LGBTQ history, to the history of British theatre and visual art, representing a time when Britain’s social and cultural history was on the cusp of a pivotal shift.”

The works from the A Patriot for Me series were acquired by Pallant House Gallery through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme from the Estate of Roxanne Wruble Levy Rosoman, a concert pianist and supporter of the arts, who was married to Rosoman until his death in 2012. Pallant House Gallery is grateful to Christie’s for their support in ensuring these works join the collection.

Read more about the acquisition in our press release.