The Edwardians: Glyn Warren Philpot

The tension between Philpot's public life and his private sexual life erupted in his work.

BY Christopher Harrity

March 31 2012 2:00 AM ET

 The Edwardian era in the United Kingdom, covering the reign of King Edward VII (1901-1910) allowed for more recognition of women's and laborers' rights. The class system was still very strictly defined, and any suspicion of homosexuality was tantamount to social suicide. But in this period the aesthetes and writers, including Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, E.M. Forster, and Somerset Maugham, made their mark and were no doubt early influences on Glyn Warren Philpot.

Philpot's artistic life spanned the Edwardian years and into the modernity of the 1930s. His work ranged from academic religious scenes to highly skilled portraits. But the tension between his public life and his private sexual life erupted in his work. While academic works and portraits paid the bills, they allowed him to experiment with more sexual themes and studies of the male nude in private.

All male nudes that were not part of a religious theme were considered homoerotic. Culturally, at the time, only men were considered patrons and critics of art. Collectors and patrons including Gertrude Stein and Peggy Guggenheim ushered in the avant-garde of the '20s and '30s and allowed for women to be included, somewhat. But the depiction of male nudes still was considered suspect, and this is why we often focus on these artists here. Rendering and presenting a male nude to the art world was a defiant act of bravery.

Philpot was also very interested in depicting black men in his work, which further alienated him from the mainstream art world and society patronage. One of the best-known black models was Henry Thomas, who was also Philpot's manservant for several years.

Philpot joined the Royal Fusiliers and in August 1915 attended a training course at Aldershot, where he met Vivian Forbes (1891-1937), a fellow soldier and an aspiring painter.

From 1923-1935, Philpot and Forbes intermittently shared a home and studio at Lansdowne House in London. Forbes was charming, witty, and fairly unstable, as evidenced by his increasing possessiveness regarding Philpot.

Although a tumultuous relationship, it was a source of inspiration to Philpot as well. Gerald Heard, a gay mutual friend and writer, believed that Forbes brought out the best in Philpot.

During the 1930s Philpot suffered from high blood-pressure and breathing difficulties. He passed the summer of 1937 in France where he spent time with Forbes. On December 18 he collapsed suddenly in London and died of a brain hemorrhage. Forbes returned from Paris in a highly distressed state to attend Philpot's funeral at Westminster Cathedral on December 22. The following day he took his own life with an overdose of sleeping pills.

The shadow cast over Philpot's work and life left him unconsidered for many years in the art world.

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