Artist Spotlight: Elisar von Kupffer's Gay Eden

This turn-of-the-century artist and photographer who created a temple to homosexual love might have bristled at the word gay.

BY Christopher Harrity

May 12 2012 3:00 AM ET

Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion in Locarno, Switzerland

Elisar von Kupffer (1872-1942) dedicated his life to a spiritual vision of a perfect world of male love. Most of his writing, art, and painting supported his utopian view of a dreamy youthful bonding between men in an idyllic setting.

To be sure, men of his social standing in life were permitted greater freedom and self-expression. Focusing on the quasi-intellectual side of his philosophy — Klarismus (clarity) — gave his somewhat campy, if not kooky version of a perfect world the safe patina of religion. It was a dreamy world of harmony, eros, and androgynous aesthetics.

He established himself as a muralist in Locarno, Switzerland, with his partner, Eduard von Mayerm and together they created the Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion, a combination museum, temple, and artistic retreat in their villa at the Lake Maggiore.

In the center of the villa is a round room that houses his heroic mural Klarwelt der Seligen. The painting depicts 84 nude, youthful men in various states of ethereal ecstasy and affection. There is a series of poems for each grouping and panel of the mural.

These were not the brawny and intimidating Aryan heroes who were soon to be emblematic of the Third Reich. These were cherubic boys that spanned the distance between masculine and feminine. Von Kupffer's vision was not antiwoman. In fact, he believed encouraging men to engage freely in affectionate homosocial friendships would allow them to experience a greater bond with the women in their lives.

In 1981 the Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion was established as a museum to house von Kuppfer's work.

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