Portrait with Candelabra: George Devine as Baron von Epp, Act 2, Scene 1, Leonard Rosoman
This vibrant portrait by Leonard Rosoman depicts the actor George Devine as Baron von Epp in John Osborne’s 1965 play, A Patriot for Me. The play tells the story of Colonel Alfred Redl, an elite officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army who was blackmailed by Russian agents because of his homosexuality. The play was considered so controversial at the time that it was nearly banned from being performed. However a legal loophole was exploited to enable the play to run at the Royal Court in 1965.
Rosoman was at the first performance and he was so transfixed by the experience that he returned every night for a week to create drawings from the audience. The subject of the portrait, George Devine, had told Rosoman that he had always wanted to appear in drag on stage, ever since attending a transvestite ball as a student at Oxford in the 1920s.
The paintings were exhibited in both New York and London but received little critical attention, perhaps because of the controversial subject matter. They are a significant record of British theatre and LGBTQ history, painted just after the Sexual Offences Act in 1967. This act decriminalised private homosexual acts between men aged over 21 and represented a considerable shift in the laws regarding sexuality.
Rosoman began his artistic career as an illustrator and was an Official War Artist during the Second World War. After the war he became close friends with the artist John Minton who was associated with the Neo-Romantic movement. The Neo-Romantic artists were characterised by a poetic and emotional response to the British landscape, frequently referencing the work of Samuel Palmer and William Blake as influences. Rosoman was also a successful mural painter, painting a mural for the Festival of Britain and the restored chapel at Lambeth Palace, London.