Tate Britain has opened its first exhibition dedicated to queer British art, unveiling material that relates to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ+) identities.

Queer British Art 1861 – 1967‘ marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales. It presents work from the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy in 1861 to the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967.

The exhibition explores various themes, including covert images of same-sex desire among the Pre-Raphaelites. It features several works by Simeon Solomon, who was associated with the movement.

The Royal Academian’s career was cut short after he was caught with a man in a public toilet behind London’s Oxford Street. After being prosecuted he no longer exhibited and was admitted to a workhouse. He eventually died in 1905 from complications relating to alcoholism.

The works contrast heavily with David Hockney’s more open appreciation of queer culture. Works on show include his early 1960s paintings Life Painting for a Diploma and Going to be a Queen for Tonight.

Another section of the show focuses on the Bloomsbury set and their contemporaries. The artistic group were renowned for their bohemian attitude towards sexuality, and the exhibition includes intimate paintings of lovers, scenes of the homes the artists shared with their partners, and large commissions by artists such as Duncan Grant and Ethel Walker.

There is also work by a range of other high-profile artists, including Keith Vaughan, Francis Bacon, Evelyn de Morgan, Gluck, Glyn Philpot, Claude Cahun and Cecil Beaton.

The theatre provided a forum in which sexuality and gender expression could be openly explored. Examples on display include photographs of performers such as Beatrix Lehmann, Berto Pasuka and Robert Helpmann by Angus McBean, who was jailed for his sexuality in 1942. There are also stage designs by Oliver Messel and Edward Burra.

Artist John Craxton was associated with the neo-Romantic style, although his eclectic practice ranged from painting sailors in bars to designing sets and scenery for the Festival of Britain in 1951, and later the Royal Opera House.

The exhibition also looks at the high-profile trials of Oscar Wilde and Radclyffe Hall. Objects on display include the door from Wilde’s prison cell, Charles Buchel’s portrait of Radclyffe Hall, and erotic drawings by Aubrey Beardsley.

Queer British Art 1861 – 1967 is at Tate Britain, London, until 1 October 2017. www.tate.org.uk

1. Hannah Gluckstein, Gluck, 1942. Oil on canvas, 306 x 254 mm. © National Portrait Gallery
2. Henry Scott Tuke, The Critics, 1927. Oil on board, 412 x 514 mm. Warwick District Council (Leamington Spa, UK). Courtesy: Tate
3. Simeon Solomon, Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene, 1864. Watercolour on paper, 330 x 381 mm. Courtesy: Tate
4. David Hockney, Life Painting for a Diploma, 1962. Yageo Foundation. © Yageo Foundation
5. Duncan Grant, Bathing, 1911. Oil paint on canvas, 2286 x 3061 mm. © Tate
6. Keith Vaughan, Drawing of two men kissing, 1958–73. Tate Archive. © DACS, The Estate of Keith Vaughan
7. Paul Tanqueray, Douglas Byng, 1934. Vintage bromide print, 239 x 193 mm, National Portrait Gallery. © Estate of Paul Tanqueray
8. John Craxton, Head of a Greek Sailor, 1940. Oil on board, 330 x 305 mm, London Borough of Camden. © Estate of John Craxton. All rights reserved, DACS 2016. Photo: London Borough of Camden
9. Angus McBean (1904-1990), Quentin Crisp, 1941. Bromide print. National Portrait Gallery (London, UK). © Estate of Angus McBean / National Portrait Gallery, London

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