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European Art: Twentieth Century  
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A large number of significant twentieth-century European artists focused on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and themes, making such concerns crucial to the understanding of twentieth-century art.

These artists span all the major art movements and are too numerous for all of them to be mentioned in a condensed essay. By necessity, the individuals discussed here constitute only a representative sample of the diverse range of twentieth-century artistic production in Europe of particular interest to glbtq people.

Henry Tuke and Ethel Walker

The careers of two British painters, Henry Scott Tuke (1859-1929) and Dame Ethel Walker (1861-1951), peaked during the early part of the century.

Tuke belonged to a circle of poets and writers who discussed and wrote about the beauty of male youth. His paintings of male nudes are notably sensual. The oil painting Noonday Heat (1903), for example, presents two youths who, relaxing on the beach, are completely engrossed in their own private world. Since neither of them addresses the viewer, their relationship seems intimate, exclusive, and ambiguous.

Dame Ethel Walker produced her major works late in her life: from the time she was in her fifties until her death at the age of ninety. She did not demonstrate any special interest in art until she formed a close friendship with Clara Christian in the 1880s; thereafter, the two women lived, studied, and worked together as fellow artists.

Walker is perhaps best known for her portraits of women. She captures her sitters' individual temperaments and expressions. Her obvious, tactile brushstrokes obscure unnecessary detail, thereby allowing the artist to emphasize the compositional aspects that capture the mood of her sitter.

Léonor Fini and the Surrealists

While artists such as Walker and Tuke represented the natural world in their art works, those individuals influenced by the Surrealist movement sought to discover, or even to be liberated into, an alternate reality. According to the Surrealists, this "new" reality necessitated the freeing of the unconscious and included outward manifestations of sexual desire.

The Surrealist attitude toward sexuality was revolutionary. The Surrealists celebrated and concretized desire in their theories, writings, and art works. Some of them manifested their beliefs in sexually open lifestyles.

Painter Léonor Fini (1907-1996) never officially joined the Surrealists but she displayed her works in many of their exhibitions. She had many lovers of both sexes. She never married but eventually settled with three individuals: two men, one mostly a friend, the other mostly a lover (Stanislao Lepri, a diplomat turned highly successful painter), and one female lover (Constanine Jelenski, a celebrated Polish poet and writer).

A child prodigy, Fini was born in Buenos Aires to an Argentine father and an Italian mother. When she was a young child, her mother fled Fini's "overly macho" father to her hometown of Trieste, Italy. Since Fini's father repeatedly hired kidnappers to abduct his daughter and bring her to Argentina, her mother disguised Fini as a boy until she reached puberty. After many failed attempts to retrieve his daughter, Fini's father finally gave up and had minimal, if any, contact with her for the rest of his life.

Perhaps the unusual circumstances of Fini's early life contributed to her development into a fiercely independent young woman. Fini, who rebelled against formal education, taught herself to draw and paint through self-discipline and perseverance. She learned anatomy by making detailed drawings of corpses that she found in Trieste morgues.

The intricate sketches of Fini's youth later developed into increasingly simpler and more gestural drawings, usually of women. Shortly after her first exhibition in Milan at the age of seventeen, she moved to Paris, where she remained for the rest of her life.

Most of Fini's paintings are infused with a sensuality that is both beautiful and ominous. The oil painting Le Lac (1991), for example, depicts busts of women with full, rounded breasts submerged in water. The hair on top of their heads forms phallic-like structures. The women glow ghostly white, an effect that is enhanced by their ambiguous, lush, and dark environment. These incredible beings dominate their surroundings and seem to function as icons of female sexuality.

The oil painting The Ends of the Earth (1949) features a single nude woman who is immersed in dark liquid from the breasts down. Around her float animal skulls said by the artist to represent the extinct male race, which she thought was too brutal and cruel to survive. Like Le Lac, The Ends of the Earth is a stark, haunting image that presents woman as an icon.

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