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

June 30, 2020

Pallant House Gallery in Chichester has announced 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. 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.

Simon Martin, Pallant House Gallery Director, said: ‘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.’

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 apsis of 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.

Edward Harley OBE, Chairman of the Acceptance in Lieu Panel, added: ‘I am delighted that this series of paintings by Leonard Rosoman has been brought into a public collection through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme.

‘These pictures represent some of the most important works from Rosoman’s career, based on John Osborne’s controversial A Patriot for Me, a play that broached the shift of sexual attitudes of the 1960s. I hope that this example will encourage others to use the scheme and continue to support our national collections.’

Due to Covid-19, Pallant House Gallery is currently closed. Please check the website here for the opening date and times.