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These activists and innovators have paved the way with their paintings, photographs, and sculptures.

The works of artists from French 19th-century animal painter Rosa Bonheur to American pop artist Andy Warhol have changed the course of art history. And photographers Nancy Andrews, Sunil Gupta, and Zanele Muholi use their images to advocate for and celebrate their queer communities.

Take a self-guided tour of LGBTQ+ artists on your next visit—many of these works are on view at the National Gallery.

1.   Sunil Gupta

Not on view
Sunil Gupta, Untitled #1, 1988, printed 2020, inkjet print, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund, 2022.23.1

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

Three rows of six horizontal, rectangular canvases, each painted a single, saturated color, hang in a widely spaced grid against a three-story gray stone wall in this photograph. Moving from our left to right, the canvases in the top row are carrot orange, pine green, royal blue, canary yellow, marigold orange, and azure blue. The middle row has panels in marine blue, amethyst purple, shamrock green, soot black, vivid red, and rust brown. The bottom row canvases are banana yellow, black, coral red, midnight blue, emerald green, and orchid purple. The smaller, rectangular stones in the wall behind the panels are also laid horizontally, and they vary from silvery white to smoke gray.

On view: East Building Atrium
Ellsworth Kelly, Color Panels for a Large Wall, 1978, oil on canvas, Purchased with funds provided by The Glenstone Foundation, Mitchell P. Rales, Founder, 2005.87.1

Walk into our East Building atrium and you will see an enormous wall filled with a rainbow of rectangular paintings. When artist Ellsworth Kelly created Color Panels for a Large Wall in 1978, he returned to color after a period of painting in black and white. The 18 canvases are variations on the six primary and secondary colors, plus two black panels. These are not individual paintings—they are one work, fulfilling Kelly’s lifelong dream of making artworks for “large walls.”

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.

Learn more about Ellsworth Kelly's life.


3.   Marie Laurencin

On view: East Building, Ground Level - Gallery 103D
Marie Laurencin, In the Park, 1924, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.158

On view: East Building, Ground Level - Gallery 103D
Marie Laurencin, Girl with a Dove, 1928, oil on linen, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.35

French painter Marie Laurencin did some cubist painting and exhibited with artists like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. But she became famous for works like In the Park. These paintings show ghostly women with bright white skin and dark eyes wearing pastel outfits. They are always set against abstract backgrounds.

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

In tones of dark sepia and coffee brown against a silvery-white background, a rectangular image taken from a photograph is repeated to make a grid with five across and eight rows in this square silkscreen painting. The repeated images are indistinct and grainy, though some are clearer than others. The image shows three men, four women, and a baby gathered in front of what could be a farmhouse. Shown from the knees up, the people appear to have light skin and most of them smile. The women wear dresses and one man, to our right, wears a brimmed hat. The sky above them is marked with fine, parallel, curving lines, reminiscent of fingerprint whorls.

On view: East Building, Upper Level - Gallery 407D
Andy Warhol, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Rauschenberg Family), 1962, silkscreen on canvas, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Howard Adams and Patrons' Permanent Fund, 1982.96.1

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 Robert Rauschenberg.

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.

Warhol lived openly as a gay man. His boyfriends, including John Giorno and Jed Johnson, often worked with him on his art.


5.   Robert Rauschenberg

Not on view
Robert Rauschenberg, Black Painting, 1952, oil and newspaper on canvas, Gift of Jasper Johns to the National Gallery of Art for the Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection, 2013.140.1

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 Jasper Johns under the name Matson Jones. Rauschenberg met Johns in 1952, and the two became romantic partners and artistic collaborators. Their relationship lasted until 1961.

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

Not on view
Mickalene Thomas, Melody: Back, 2011, diffusion transfer print (Polaroid), Charina Endowment Fund and Peter Edwards and Rose Gutfeld Fund, 2020.3.1

African American artist Mickalene Thomas often invites models to pose in her built sets. While the photographs Thomas takes form the basis of her celebrated rhinestone-lined paintings, they have also become finished works in their own right.

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

On view: East Building, Mezzanine - Terrace
Roni Horn, Opposite of White, v. 2 (Large) (A), 2006-2007, solid cast black glass with fire-polished top, Gift of the Collectors Committee, Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, John and Mary Pappajohn, Denise and Andrew Saul, Constance R. Caplan, Lenore S. and Bernard A. Greenberg Fund, Kyle J. and Sharon Krause, and Mitchell and Emily Rales, 2015.63.1

Nonbinary American artist Roni Horn has been making cast-glass sculptures like Opposite of White, v. 2 (Large) (A) since the 1990s. Horn pours molten glass into a mold where it takes three to four months to solidify. While the top is so perfectly smooth that it almost looks like it’s still liquid, you can see the rough marks from the mold on the side of this sculpture. The work is heavier than it looks, weighing around 4,500 pounds. Horn has made other versions of this sculpture that are paired with transparent white doubles (hence the title).

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

Not on view
Zanele Muholi, Zimaseka 'Zim' Salusalu, Gugulethu, Cape Town, 2011, gelatin silver print, Gift of Joshua and Sara Slocum, 2021.111.1

South African photographer Zanele Muholi’s series Faces and Phases focuses on their country’s Black lesbian and queer community. In the black-and-white photographs, posed subjects look directly at the camera. The work is “a space for people to be visible, respected, and recognized” Muholi says.

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

Four deep, three-dimensional letters spell out the word AMOR in this free-standing sculpture, with the A and M stacked on top of the O and R to create a square on a low black platform. The letters are coral red with butter-yellow undersides. The elongated, oval-shaped opening within the circular letter O is angled 45 degrees, toward the M at the upper right. We stand slightly to the left in this photograph so we can see the deep sides of the letters. The sculpture is displayed out-of-doors with trees and a tall black fence in the background and plantings around the base.

On view: Sculpture Garden - NE
Robert Indiana, AMOR, conceived 1998, fabricated 2006, polychrome aluminum, Gift of Simon and Gillian Salama-Caro in memory of Ruth Klausner, 2012.27.1

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 Robert Indiana to design one in 1965, he recalled a church decorated with the words “God is Love.” Indiana’s message of love came shortly after heartbreak—his relationship with artist Ellsworth Kelly had ended just a year earlier. The two had been together since 1956.

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

This vertical canvas is filled with geometric shapes that create patterns in red, blue, yellow, green, black, and white in this abstract painting. The paint is applied with visible brushstrokes, giving some areas a mottled look. Some of the patterns seem to revolve around a red circle near the top center. The circle has a black cross like a plus sign on a white field at its center, and a white band around its perimeter is outlined in black. A blue and white checkered band curves up over the red circle to our left while a banner-like form of alternating, wavy yellow and black lines cascade down to the right of the circle. Horizontal bands of red, white, and black extend across the canvas behind the circle. Below the circle, a blue panel with a curly, cursive red “E” is flanked to the left with a red and white checkerboard, then alternating, almost vertical lines of blue and white. The red number “4” appears on a yellow field at the bottom center of the work, and is flanked by rectangular forms and alternating bands of color to either side.

Not on view
Marsden Hartley, Berlin Abstraction, 1914/1915, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund), 2014.79.21

American painter Marsden Hartley's Berlin Abstraction is a coded tribute to his lover. Symbols throughout the work refer to German lieutenant Karl von Freyburg, who died during World War I. The red number four stands for the Fourth Regiment he served in. The red-and-white checkerboard recalls Freyburg’s love of chess. The black cross in a red circle with a white border is likely an abstract Iron Cross medal for bravery, which Freyburg was awarded after his death.

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

On view: East Building, Ground Level - Gallery 103C
Gwen John, The Convalescent, c. 1915-1925, oil on canvas, Paul Mellon Collection, 1994.59.15

Welsh artist Gwen John was little known during her life. Her gloomy portraits of solitary women (sometimes accompanied by cats) have only been fully appreciated in recent years. The Convalescent shows a woman reading from a paper she holds in her lap. This wicker chair appears in several of John’s paintings, and the model is in about 50 of them, but her identity is unknown.

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

Not on view
Nancy Andrews, Roberta Achtenberg, 1993, gelatin silver print, Gift of Nancy Andrews and Annie O'Neill, 2022.122.45

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

From a low vantage point, we look up along rolling, verdant farm fields bathed in sunlight that fill most of this nearly square canvas. Rows of stylized, gold-green hay almost fill landscape painting. The horizon line is high, almost at the top of the painting, and the hill in front of us slopes from the horizon down to a point far below us, at the bottom edge of the canvas. Along the hill, roughly parallel rows of harvested hay are bundled into distinctive tube-like mounds, with paths between them. The field is interrupted only by a small, solitary young tree near the lower left corner. Two muted, terracotta-red barns or outbuildings with pitched, tan-colored roofs perch at the top of the hill. They stand outlined against a light, clear blue sky at the top center of the composition. The canopies of several rounded trees puff up beyond the buildings, on the far side of the hill. A fan-like weathervane with flat, blade-like paddles sits atop the smaller barn. The other, larger building has a higher pitched roof with a small, lantern-shaped cupola on top and a wide door on the right side where the roof slopes down in a lean-to type of structure. A piece of farm machinery is parked in the field at the top right. At the bottom center of the canvas, a brown ceramic jug with a handle and red stopper rests on the ground in between the rows of bundled hay. The artist signed and dated the work with red paint in the bottom left corner: “GRANT WOOD 1939.” There is also a red painted copyright symbol to the left of the name.

Not on view
Grant Wood, Haying, 1939, oil on canvas on paperboard mounted on hardboard, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Irwin Strasburger, 1982.7.1

We look down across a stylized landscape of rolling green fields divided into quarters by two sand-colored roads in this square painting. The scene is lit from the upper left, and the horizon almost brushes the top of the composition. Closest to us, in the lower left corner, one road curves into view from behind a green hill and drops steeply down into the valley below. An area of peach and tan in the lower right corner could be the base of a sawed-off tree trunk. There are two wooden posts just beyond it, and a sign affixed to one reads, “SOLON 5 MI.” The road stretches almost straight into the distance, where it is intersected by a second road, running nearly horizontally across the painting. The land rises and falls in gently swelling hills to either side of the roads and deep into the distance. Fields covering those hills are crosshatched with clay-orange brushstrokes over a blend of celery and pea green. To our left, in the valley, the edge of a white farmhouse with a clay-red roof nestles among pine and dark green trees. Another cluster of round trees, like a bunch of pompoms, sits in a field along the road, to our right. Across the bisecting road, also to our right, is a brick-red barn and white windmill standing before more trees. Touches and a few swipes of white suggest a horse and chickens in front of the farmhouse. The road sweeping down past these buildings is dotted with white fence posts. One of the hills rippling into the distance is topped with a tan-colored plot of land. In the top quarter of the composition, the narrow sky is filled with a shimmering blend of short, dense strokes dotted across the canvas, ranging from soft blues on the left to peach and pale pink on the right. The artist signed and dated the work in red paint in the lower left corner, “GRANT WOOD 1939” following a copyright symbol.

Not on view
Grant Wood, New Road, 1939, oil on canvas on paperboard mounted on hardboard, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Irwin Strasburger, 1982.7.2

Iowa artist Grant Wood gained national fame in 1930 for American Gothic, still one of the best known American paintings. In 1939 he made New Road and Haying, a pair of idealized midwestern landscapes.

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

In this black and white photograph, a woman wearing a black dress leans toward an arched mirror set into a wall, so we see the woman twice in this double portrait. We are situated slightly below her so we look up at the woman, who gazes down and to our right. The surface of the wall is smooth but lightly textured, like adobe. Trees reflected in the mirror indicate that this is outdoors. The woman in front of us takes up the left half of the composition. She faces our right in profile and leans to our right, at the far edge of the mirror. Her dark hair is pulled up in ribbon entwined braids. She wears long, chandelier style earrings and her high-necked black dress has puffed, lace sleeves. We see her face straight on in the mirror’s reflection. The woman’s distinctive brows knit together over her rounded nose.

Not on view
Lola Alvarez Bravo, Frida Kahlo, c. 1944, gelatin silver print, Corcoran Collection (Gift of Mr. Robert Lennon and Mr. Ramon Osuna in Memory of Gene Baro.), 2015.19.4322

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 Diego Rivera, Kahlo was bisexual and known to have both men and women as lovers. Some of her paintings, such as Two Nudes in a Forest, explore these themes.

Kahlo was part of a community of creatives and thinkers in Mexico City. Through that group she became close friends with photographer Lola Álvarez Bravo, who took this photograph. Kahlo looks “through” a mirrored archway. The double image recalls her Las Dos Fridas (The Two Fridas), which shows two versions of the artist holding hands.


15.   Rosa Bonheur

Not on view
Rosa Bonheur, Cattle in the Auvergne, 1867, black and white chalk with stumping and touches of pastel, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 2017.40.1

Successful French artist Rosa Bonheur made paintings and sculptures of cows, horses, sheep, and other creatures. She was so committed to her craft that she asked the French government for permission to wear pants, arguing that that would make it easier for her to study animals.

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.


May 31, 2023