Amplifying the stories of queer artists: LGBT+ History Month

February is the joyous month to celebrate LGBT+ history across the UK. This annual-month long celebration aims to educate and amplify the historic milestones from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.

Visual artists from our Biography Collection

This year we are excited to shine the light on LGBT+ visual artists from our special Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library, which contains many fascinating books exploring the lives of LGBT+ artists, some household names like David Hockney, Gwen John, Francis Bacon and Maggie Hambling, and others far less well known. For this blog post our colleague, Claudia, will be focusing on two very different 20th century artists, from very different backgrounds, whose sexuality and the obstacles society put in their way informed their lives and art.

Romaine Brooks was an American heiress who moved to Paris in the 1890s, while still in her teens, to develop her career as a painter. Having the financial means to avoid the poor areas frequented by struggling garret-dwelling artists, she set up home in the fashionable 16th arondissement, and painted portraits of aristocrats – some of whom, including the Princesse de Polignac, became her lovers.


Copyright: © Photo RMN – Droits réservés

Brooks had previously lived in England, and a spell in St Ives saw her refining her palette from the bright, strong tones of her earlier work, to the muted greys which became her trademark. Brooks favoured masculine attire, cutting a glamorous and elegant figure in austerely tailored coats, wing collars, top hats and a short haircut (long before the shocking “Eton crop” became fashionable for “flappers” in the 1920s). Many of her portraits of women show their subjects in similar outfits, providing a rich record of women subverting the rigidly gendered clothing of the time and signalling their sexual preferences.

Brooks had a 50 year relationship with the writer Natalie Barney, whose salon in the rue Jacob spanned six decades. Brooks was one of a circle of women who were determined to live as their true selves in the face of prejudice, and created great artistic records of the lives of their peers.


Beauford Delaney | Whitney Museum of American Art

Beauford Delaney also made the journey from America to Paris, but sixty years after Brooks did, and in middle age. By this time, he was an established painter, having made his name with his haunting modernist depictions of the homeless and disenfranchised in Depression era New York City.

A native of Tennessee, whose mother had been born enslaved, Delaney began painting at an early age (as did his brother Joseph, who also became a professional artist). His period in New York City coincided with The Harlem Renaissance, a huge flowering of African American art, music and literature, and he was active in radical politics. James Baldwin wrote movingly of Delaney as his “spiritual father”, “the first living proof, for me, that a black man could be an artist”.

After Delaney’s death, Baldwin wrote: “He has been menaced more than any other man I know by his social circumstances and also by all the emotional and psychological stratagems he has been forced to use to survive; and, more than any other man I know, he has transcended both the inner and outer darkness.”

Implicit in these words is Baldwin’s recognition of Delaney’s struggle as a fellow black gay man – although a prominent member of gay Bohemian circles which were carving a place in the arts and society, Delaney struggled with the shadow cast by the homophobia of the time and of the church teaching of his youth. His mental health deteriorated, partly as a result of the pressures of negotiating his sexuality in a hostile society. His work is inflected with the vision of the raw and tender vision of the outsider, the artist seeking to elevate the humane truths of existence above the violence and cruelty of exclusion.

Cityread London

Have you heard about Cityread London?

Cityread London
Cityread London

Cityread London is a campaign to spread a love of books and reading to the widest possible audience throughout our capital. By choosing one book- A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks – for the whole city to read, discuss and debate, the aim of the campaign is bring Londoners together in a series of special events, across London and online. This year’s Cityread London campaign will launch in our libraries and across the capital on 2 April 2013.

Sebastian Faulks
Sebastian Faulks

As well as opportunities to borrow A Week in December (and other works by Sebastian Faulks) from our libraries, there will also be events for children, families, young people and adults in April 2013.  

A Week In December by Sebastian Faulks
A Week In December by Sebastian Faulks

Cityread events for adults

Trains, Trams and Buses: Images from the History of Transport in Kensington and Chelsea – An Exhibition

Number 73 bus and some interesting pedestrians!
Number 73 bus and some interesting pedestrians!

Come and see images from the Local Studies collection. This exhibition has been curated by Kensington and Chelsea Local Studies Library at the following libraries:

  • Tuesday 2 to Saturday 6 April, Kensington Central Library
  • Monday 8 to Saturday 13 April, Brompton Library,
  • Monday 15 to Sunday 21 April, Chelsea Library
  • Monday 22 to Saturday 27 April, North Kensington Library

Creative Writing Workshop with Tamara Pollock

Tamara Pollock
Tamara Pollock

Wednesday 10 April, 2 to 4pm at Brompton Library

In this two-hour workshop led by writer and workshop director, Tamara Pollock, we will look at incorporating the theme of London in a short story. We will briefly examine the way in which Sebastian Faulks depicts London life in his novel, A Week in December. This workshop is designed to ease writers into the process of short story writing and to answer questions about character, structure and dialogue.

Places are strictly limited for this workshop, so please book your free place early at Brompton Library.

Legends of Underground London

Subterranean City by Antony Clayton
Subterranean City by Antony Clayton

Thursday 11 April, 6.30 to 8pm at Kensington Central Library

Antony Clayton, author of Subterranean City: Beneath the Streets of London, presents an illustrated talk that will uncover some of the colourful folklore of underground London including legends of secret tunnels and passages, pigs in the sewers and buried trains. Please book your free place to this event at Kensington Central Library.

Inconvenient People – Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England

Sarah Wise
Sarah Wise

Thursday 18 April, 6.30 to 8pm at Kensington Central Library

Sarah Wise looks at 75 years of psychiatry in 19th Century England bringing to light new research and unseen stories of contested lunacy. Exploring Victorian social history, she provides a unique insight into the sexuality, fears and greed of the Victorian middle class. Sebastian Faulks chose this as one of his Books of the Year (2012). Sarah did some of the research for her book at Kensington and Chelsea Local Studies Library. Please book your free place to this event at Kensington Central Library.

Cityread events for children, families and young people

Drama Workshop with Chickenshed Kensington and Chelsea

Chickenshed Kensington and Chelsea in action!
Chickenshed Kensington and Chelsea in action!

Tuesday 9 April, 2 to 3pm at Kensington Central Library

Age: seven to 14

Join Chickenshed Kensington and Chelsea for a fun-filled, inclusive performance workshop. Inspired by the 150th birthday of the London Underground we’ll be heading off on an adventure exploring London through dance, drama and music. This is a great opportunity for young people to develop their performance skills using Chickenshed’s proven teaching methods and unique performance style. Places are limited so please book your free place in advance at Kensington Central Children’s Library.

Story and Craft Sessions – Kensington and Chelsea Libraries

Story and craft sessions
Story and craft sessions

We’ll be having special Cityread story and craft sessions for children aged four to ten at the following libraries:

  • Tuesday 2 April, 2 to 3pm at Notting Hill Gate Library
  • Thursday 4 April and Thursday 11 April, 2 to 3pm at Kensington Central Library
  • Thursday 4 April and Thursday 11 April, 2.30 to 3.30pm at North Kensington Library
  • Saturday 6 April and Saturday 13 April, 11am to 12 noon at Brompton Library
  • Saturday 6 April and Saturday 13 April, 11am to 12 noon at Chelsea Library
  • Saturday 13 April, 3 to 4pm at Kensal Library

We hope that you will be inspired to join in with this campaign in order to make London’s second Cityread has successful as the first. More details about how to book are on our Cityread events page and for more events across London take a look at Cityread London’s website too.

Jodie Green, Lending Librarian
Jodie Green

Jodie Green

Lending Librarian