The New Man: Alfred Gilbert's Heroic Nudes 1882-1895
11 June – 5 August 2006
In contrast to current media stereotypes, this exhibition finds its place in the late Victorian period, when ‘new men’ were not the masculine icons of today but aesthetes and dandies.
Using the work of Alfred Gilbert, this small study show considers how sculptures, which were intended to be homoerotic and effeminate, were nevertheless permissible at a time when sexuality was a hotly debated issue, especially after the Labouchère Amendment (1885) outlawed gross indecency between men (legislation which most famously led to the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde in 1895).
Alfred Gilbert (1854-1934) is most famous for his Shaftesbury Memorial (better known to us as Eros), but in his lifetime he was also highly acclaimed for his bronze statuettes of mythological and religious subjects.
This display brings together his most renowned pieces, which are also the most effeminate. Harking back to Antique sculpture via the Renaissance, they are redolent of periods when the nude male body was the ideal form of beauty. Hence, this show is timed to coincide with another prized example of male perfection on exhibition at the Institute: Antinous - Hadrian’s lover and later cult figure.
Even though more manly or moral figures were the sculptural norm, Gilbert's statuettes were not just the preserve of a select and secretive male clientele. He received many important commissions from a range of patrons, including the Royal Family. Gilbert's works therefore exist as reminders of the complexity surrounding gender issues and stereotypes, both then and now. Such apparently contradictory works are particularly resonant now that recent legalisation has done much to repeal 'Victorian-style' social inequalities.
This display was selected by Dr Jason Edwards (York University), who has also written the accompanying essay.
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