These activists and innovators have paved the way with their paintings, photographs, and sculptures.
The works of artists from French 19th-century animal painter
Take a self-guided tour of LGBTQ+ artists on your next visit—most of these works are on view at the National Gallery.
1. Sunil Gupta
London-based photographer Sunil Gupta has spent much of his career chronicling the beauty and struggle of his own gay community.
In 1988 Gupta created ‘Pretended’ Family Relationships. The series of photographs was his response to Section 28, a group of laws that prohibited promoting “the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” in the United Kingdom. Gupta’s works combine portraits of gay couples, some staged and others real, with images from protests against Section 28. Poetry by Stephen Dodd, Gupta’s partner at the time, appears on panels between the two images.
2. Ellsworth Kelly
Walk into our East Building atrium and you will see an enormous wall filled with a rainbow of rectangular paintings. When artist
Kelly first made Color Panels for a bank. When the work entered the National Gallery’s collection in 2005, the artist changed it for the East Building. In the end, he preferred the new layout of the panels to his original design.
Kelly was an openly gay man—one of his long-term partners was fellow artist Robert Indiana.
3. Marie Laurencin
Living in Paris during the late 19th century, Laurencin was part of a community of avant-garde (new and experimental) artists and creatives who were relatively open about their sexuality. Laurencin had relationships with both men and women. She was a regular at salons held by American author Natalie Clifford Barney. Barney, a lesbian, welcomed other women like herself. One of Laurencin’s first patrons was lesbian American author Gertrude Stein.
4. Andy Warhol
You can see several works by famous American pop artist Andy Warhol in our galleries, including his iconic Green Marilyn. Look across the room and you may recognize the artist’s signature style: silkscreens of repeated photographs. This work is a tribute to Warhol’s friend, artist
The two found a common interest in using art to comment on popular culture. Warhol’s silkscreen process of transferring photographs onto canvas inspired Rauschenberg, who had already been making transfers onto paper.
The inspiration went both ways—Warhol made a series of works using photographs of Rauschenberg and his family. The title, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Rauschenberg Family), comes from a book by James Agee with images by Walker Evans, one of Rauschenberg’s favorite photographers.
5. Robert Rauschenberg
After serving in the Navy, Robert Rauschenberg began a career as an artist. He eventually settled in New York City and found a job designing window displays for department stores, working with artist
Rauschenberg experimented with using different materials in his artworks. Adding newspaper to black paintings led to his “combines” like Black Painting—works that didn’t fit neatly into either the painting or sculpture categories. Rauschenberg gave this work to Johns. It entered the National Gallery’s collection more than 50 years later in 2013.
6. Mickalene Thomas
African American artist
Melody: Back shows a Black woman mimicking the pose of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s The Grand Odalisque. An odalisque was an enslaved woman, often part of a harem. In Thomas’ photograph the woman holds a bouquet of flowers in one hand; in Ingres’s version, the woman holds a peacock fan. Thomas, a Black queer woman making a portrait of a Black woman, is reframing a work in which a white, European man has exoticized his subject. The tattoo on the model’s lower back reads “Only God Can Judge Me.” Melody: Back also refers to African art: the mix of patterned fabrics recalls images by Seydou Keïta.
7. Roni Horn
Nonbinary American artist
Horn’s works often explore doubles (pairs that look identical)—as well as opposites like heavy and light, solid and fluid, transparent and opaque. The artist is also interested in how objects are affected by what is around them. The sculpture changes depending on the light, and at the right angle, the polished surface reflects its viewer.
8. Zanele Muholi
South African photographer
Muholi identifies as a visual activist. The series is part of their larger efforts to document and celebrate the South African queer community and its strength in the face of continuing hate crimes and discrimination.
9. Robert Indiana
You may have seen other versions of this sculpture: four stacked letters spelling out “LOVE.” But did you know it started as a Christmas card? When the Museum of Modern Art invited American artist
After making the card, Indiana spread love on prints, paintings, and sculptures. In this later version, he swapped out LOVE for the word’s Spanish (or Latin) translation, AMOR.
10. Marsden Hartley
Hartley was never openly gay. He claimed that the series of “German Officer” portraits (that this painting is part of) had no veiled meanings. The references to his lover were only revealed after Hartley’s death.
11. Gwen John
John lived in France for most of her adult life and had relationships with both women and men. She was a muse and romantic partner to French sculptor Auguste Rodin. She also studied with James McNeill Whistler.
12. Nancy Andrews
American photographer and reporter Nancy Andrews published Family: A Portrait of Gay and Lesbian America in 1993. The work celebrates the everyday lives and extraordinary achievements of queer Americans she met across the country. Andrews described it as “the book I looked for when I began to realize I was gay.”
This photograph shows Roberta Achtenberg, an attorney and civil rights advocate—and the first openly gay federal appointee confirmed by the US Senate. The hearing for her position lasted days, with more than nine hours of obstruction and intense questioning from senators who opposed her lesbian identity and history of activism.
13. Grant Wood
That same year Wood was the subject of a scandal. He had been experimenting for several years with printmaking. In 1939 he made a work for Associated American Artists, which sold low-cost prints through the mail. Sultry Night showed a nude male farmhand bathing himself by moonlight. The US Postal Service banned the print, and a colleague at the University of Iowa tried (but failed) to have Wood fired on moral grounds. Wood died of cancer only a few years later. His life as a gay man was not widely discussed until recently.
14. Frida Kahlo
Maybe the best-known Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo is famous for her vibrant and fantastical paintings, many of them self-portraits. While she was married to Mexican painter
Kahlo was part of a community of creatives and thinkers in Mexico City. Through that group she became close friends with photographer
15. Rosa Bonheur
Successful French artist
In the 19th century, Bonheur could not present openly as a lesbian. But she lived for more than 40 years with fellow painter Nathalie Micas—and, after Micas’s death, with American photographer and painter Anna Klumpke. The three are buried side by side in Paris.