Queer British Art at the Tate and Queer Saint

The new show opening at Tate Britain to mark 50 years since the relaxation of the laws relating to homosexuality folowing the Wolfenden Report inevitably brings to mind the great supporter of gay artists in the 1940s and 1950s, Peter Watson.

Watson only really started to focus on British art when he was forced to return to London from Paris in 1939. Then, trapped by the War in the UK for the duration, and needing to fill the arts pages of Horizon with something, he started to focus on local talent. Previously he had supported gay artists in Paris, like Pavel Tchelitchew and Christian Berard, but now he got to know and support in different ways Francis Bacon, John Craxton, Robert Colquhoun and Robert Macbryde, all gay, and also met ( although didn’t particularly support) John Minton and Keith Vaughan.

In those represssed days for the gay community, the ability for young gay artists to seek support from one of the richest and most generous young men in England was a godsend. Craxton, for example, got huge help from Watson, culminating in Geoffrey Grigson’s monograph on his work, all paid for by Watson, in 1948. The Roberts stayed with him in his flat in Palace Gate during the War when they came down from Scotland, until he paid their rent in a flat of their own. Bacon was to benefit from a piece in Horizon and later from his first ever retrospective at the ICA in 1955, facilitated by Watson. In addition, of course, Watson bought pictures by these artists.