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Raffalovich, Marc André (1864-1934)  

English poet and writer on sexuality, Marc André Raffalovich is best known today for his patronage of the arts and for his long friendship with John Gray, who may have been the model for Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray and who became a Roman Catholic priest in Edinburgh.

In 1863, Marie and Hermann Raffalovich moved from Odessa to Paris, where their younger son, Marc André, was born. There, Marie began to contribute articles on art exhibitions to the Journal de Saint-Pétersbourg. She also kept a popular salon, the guests of which included Henri Bergson, Sarah Bernhardt, Colette, Joris-Karl Huysmans, and Gustave Moreau.

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Marc André, was raised in this cultured environment. Moving to England in 1882, he settled in London and, like his mother, nurtured friendships with artists and writers, including Aubrey Beardsley, Lily Langtry, Ouida, Walter Pater, Charles Shannon, Charles Ricketts, and James McNeill Whistler.

Oscar Wilde critiqued André's salon as nothing more than a saloon (which he nevertheless frequented), while Raffalovich himself voiced discomfort with what he saw as Wilde's sexual immorality.

Raffalovich's views on sexuality appear in the five books of poetry and two novels that he published between 1884 and 1896. As Robert Browning observed, Raffalovich's poems often erase the sex of the object of desire, thereby encouraging same-sex readings. The works also reflect the influence of Uranian poetry and its view of same-sex desire as innocent and pure.

Among his nonfiction works, the most famous is Uranisme et Unisexualité (1896), which established his reputation as an expert on homosexuality. According to Raffalovich, "unisexuality" is a mode of sexual expression as valid as heterosexuality. It is noble and pure, however, only when practiced by a "sublime invert," who fulfills his desires not through intercourse but through celibate friendship, spirituality, and art.

In 1895, Raffalovich became a patron of Aubrey Beardsley who--because of his ties to Wilde--had been dismissed from his job as art editor of The Yellow Book upon Wilde's conviction for gross indecency. Raffalovich and Beardsley became close, Beardsley reading drafts of the writer's work and Raffalovich commissioning a likeness of himself by the artist.

Unfortunately, the portrait was never done, but Beardsley did draw a frontispiece for Raffalovich's poetry collection The Thread and the Path. The publisher, however, refused to include it because the figure was hermaphroditic.

A few years later, when Beardsley was on his deathbed, Raffalovich sent a monthly check so that his mother could stay at home to look after him.

In 1892, critic Arthur Symons introduced Raffalovich to the love of his life, John Gray, a poet influenced by the French symbolists and a member of Wilde's inner circle. Remarkably beautiful, Gray was widely rumored to be the inspiration for the protagonist of Wilde's notorious novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). Until his break with Wilde in 1893, Gray encouraged the rumors, sometimes signing his name as "Dorian."

Raffalovich gave Gray extensive financial support, even paying his expenses when the young man went to Rome to study for the priesthood in 1898. "Sebastian" was the baptismal name Raffalovich chose for himself when, under Gray's influence, he converted to Catholicism in 1896. In 1902, he moved to Edinburgh, where Gray had taken a position as a curate.

Settling in Scotland to be near Gray, Raffalovich contributed generously to the construction of St. Peter's Church, in Morningside, a middle-class suburb of Edinburgh, where Gray became rector and where Raffalovich attended mass daily.

Raffalovich continued to attract and support artists such as Eric Gill, Dorothy Johnston, Eric Robertson, and Cecile Walton. Guests to his home included Max Beerbohm, the art scholar Herbert Read, Hubert Wellington (the Principal of the Edinburgh College of Art), and the sculptor Aelred Whitacre.

Raffalovich was finally hosting the salon that he had envisioned. His support of artists continued throughout the remainder of his life.

Dennis Denisoff

     

 
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Marc André Raffalovich circa 1880.
  
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   Related Entries
  
arts >> Overview:  European Art: Nineteenth Century

Several artists and art critics of the nineteenth century achieved a self-aware homosexual identity that is expressed in both their lives and their works, but lesbianism is only rarely depicted in terms of identity during this period.

literature >> Overview:  French Literature: Nineteenth Century

In the nineteenth century gay and lesbian sexuality becomes a significant subject in French literature.

literature >> Overview:  Uranian Poets

The Uranian poets, who lived and wrote from the close of the Victorian era to the middle of the interwar period, celebrated love for adolescent boys.

arts >> Beardsley, Aubrey

English decadent and Symbolist artist Aubrey Beardsley made a lasting contribution to the art of illustration; a satirist with a gift for caricature and grotesquerie, Beardsley attacked Victorian sexual values.

literature >> Colette

One of France's most beloved authors, Colette wrote novels with strong lesbian subtexts.

literature >> Huysmans, Joris-Karl

J. K. Huysmans, an important figure in the Aesthetic and Decadent movements, exemplified a style of homosexuality at a pivotal moment in the emergence of a gay identity.

literature >> Pater, Walter

The aesthetic of the important and influential Victorian critic Walter Pater reflected a homosexual sensibility.

arts >> Ricketts, Charles (1866-1931), and Charles Shannon (1863-1937)

Versatile British artists Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon were partners in life as well as in art; while pursuing independent careers, they also collaborated on a number of creative projects, including book design.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.


    Bibliography
   

Benkovitz, Miriam J. Aubrey Beardsley: An Account of His Life. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1981.

McCormak, Jerusha Hull. The Man Who Was Dorian Gray. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Sewell, B. ed. Two Friends: John Gray and André Raffalovich: Essays Biographical and Critical. Aylesford, Kent: Saint Albert's Press, 1963.

Sewell, B. Footnote to the Nineties: A Memoir of John Gray and André Raffalovich. London: Cecil and Emilia Woolf, 1968.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Denisoff, Dennis  
    Entry Title: Raffalovich, Marc André  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 6, 2011  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/raffalovich_ma.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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