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UAL Research Online

The Queer Subjectivities and Visual Culture of Stephen Tennant, Oliver Messel and Rex Whistler, 1922-1939

Bench, Paul (2021) The Queer Subjectivities and Visual Culture of Stephen Tennant, Oliver Messel and Rex Whistler, 1922-1939. PhD thesis, University of the Arts London.

Type of Research: Thesis
Creators: Bench, Paul

My thesis investigates the relationship between the ‘queer’ subjectivities and visual culture of Stephen Tennant (1906-1987), Oliver Messel (1904-1978) and Rex Whistler (1905-1944) between 1922 and 1939. This time frame reflects the beginning of their friendship at the Slade School of Art, their early adulthood creativity and a period immediately preceding World War Two in which they were visible in press reports as ‘Bright Young People’. I ask: is it possible to detect a common visual language across their corpuses in the period 1922-1939? And, is this putative visual language queer?

To answer these questions I draw on unseen private collections and public archives to analyse and compare diverse visual material and practices associated with these men. These include paintings, drawings, self-presentation, writing, photography, theatre set and costume designs and interior decoration. I establish queer readings of the visual language I identify by deploying a theoretical framework that accounts for relationships between visual works/practices, authors and audiences. This guides my understanding that Tennant, Messel and Whistler’s subjectivities and visual culture were mutually constituting. I draw on established research and primary evidence to demonstrate and analyse the ways queer male sexual and gender identities and these men in particular, were contemporaneously and subsequently received by particular audiences in specific historical and cultural contexts.

The wide range of Tennant, Messel and Whistler’s visual works has not been directly compared before and my attention to their sexual and gender identities in relation to their works and practices is new. I contribute to current understandings of historical sexual selfhoods and debates within queer historiography. My thesis adds to and bridges gaps between, lesbian and gay studies, queer histories, British art histories and queer art histories. It also intervenes in established narratives attached to these men.

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Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Fashion
Date: March 2021
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2021 16:02
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2024 09:17
Item ID: 16991
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/16991

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