Friday, August 19, 2011

When Uranian poets collected von Gloeden's photographs...

An excerpt from: Michael Matthew Kaylor, Secreted Desires. The Major Uranians: Hopkins, Pater and Wilde, Brno, Czech Republic: Masaryk University, 2006, p. 86-87

This book is available as a free .pdf download here

"For their own more private and masturbatory purposes, the Uranians  collected artworks of a different sort: nudes of Italian boys by photographers such as Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931), residing in Taormina, Sicily, and his distant relative Wilhelm (Guglielmo) von Plüschow (1852-1930), residing mostly in Rome — photographs that have themselves become collectables dispersed by auction houses and chronicled in sales catalogues. However, for the Uranian scholar, catalogues have much to tell, and von Gloeden’s guest book was itself a catalogue of the paederastically-inclined, and included the signature of Oscar Wilde, one of his staunchest admirers.2  Like children with packets of baseball cards, the Uranians exchanged these salacious photographs as a form of pictorial insinuation and friendship. In a New Year’s Eve letter for  1889, Edmund Gosse (1849-1928) thanks Symonds for sending him one such photograph, undoubtedly as a Christmas gift: ‘As I sat in the Choir [of Westminster Abbey during Robert Browning’s funeral], with George Meredith at my side, I peeped at it again and again’.3 Boys will be boys — but there were real dangers involved in such exchanges and glances, though the Uranians had, it must be admitted, ‘the ability to devise elegant stratagems to legitimize sexual display’.4 It is difficult to imagine an ‘elegant stratagem’ that would have ‘legitimized’ Gosse’s constant peeping at a nude, provocatively posed Sicilian boy during Browning’s funeral — however, for the Uranians the danger was half the pleasure.5"

(1) The fact that these two paederastic aristocrats, who were also photographers, left Germany to reside in Italy is explained by Vicki Goldberg in ‘A Man-Made Arcadia Enshrining Male Beauty’, New York Times (13 August 2000), ‘Art/Architecture’ section, pp.30-31: ‘Germany in the 1880s was still prosecuting men for nude sunbathing, but in Sicily, male children ordinarily went nude on the beach, and most Mediterranean countries tacitly accepted homosexuality as a passing phase in a boy’s development’ (p.30). She also comments on von Gloeden’s success as a photographer: Not bad for a man who might have well been arrested for child pornography in our supposedly more tolerant and certainly less wilfully innocent culture. Von Gloeden was interested only in young boys and early adolescents […] He photographed some of the same models for years but usually stopped doing so as they reached early manhood. A couple of young children who cannot be much more than 5 or 6 also turn up in his photographs. (P.31)
‘Von Gloeden, a young Prussian country squire, left his homeland for Italy to regain his physical (he suffered from a disabling lung condition) and mental health (the psychological distress he experienced as a pederast unable to indulge his erotic fantasies)’ — ‘Wilhelm von Gloeden’ [Exhibition press release], Throckmorton Fine Art, New York City, NY (exhibition of 12 July – 9 September 2000).

(2) Goldberg, p.30.

(3)  As quoted in Ann Thwaite, Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape, 1849-1928 (London: Secker & Warburg, 1984), p.323. I  ish to thank Dr Rictor Norton for corresponding with me regarding this point. According to d’Arch Smith, Symonds made such gifts to others as well, as a sign of friendship and understanding: ‘Symonds was extremely kind to [Charles Kains] Jackson, [and] sent him photographs of nude Italian youths from the studios of von Gloeden and others’ (p.18). It should be noted that von Gloeden’s photographs were not always treated as mere pornography: ‘His work was shown in international exhibitions and published in art journals, which doubtless preferred the more discreet images’ (Goldberg, p. 30). The details I have provided for each of Wilhelm von Gloeden’s photographs reproduced here — photographs von Gloeden produced in multiple copies — merely accounts for one of the extant prints. These details come from Peter Weiermair, ed.  with intro., Wilhelm von Gloeden: Erotische Photographien (Cologne, Germany: Taschen, 1993).

(4)  Goldberg, p.31.

(5) George Meredith wrote a poem commemorating Browning’s funeral, ‘Now Dumb Is He Who Walked the World to Speak’. This poem does not mention Gosse’s prurient asides

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