Outing the Past: The Erotic Drawings

Please note: due to the sexually explicit content in the drawings, this digital talk is intended for adult audiences only.


Use the password supplied in your booking confirmation email to play the video. The talk will be available to watch until 11.59pm on Sunday 14 March.

On 2 May 1959 the artist Duncan Grant gave his friend Edward le Bas a folder marked ‘These drawings are very private.’ Inside was a collection of over four hundred erotic illustrations that express Grant’s lifelong fascination with the joy and beauty of queer sexual encounters. It was thought that Le Bas’ sister had destroyed them after he had died. They were in fact rescued and have remained in private hands ever since, a secret collection passed from lover to lover, friend to friend for 60 years.

In 2020, current owner generously donated this remarkable collection to Charleston, to celebrate and share with the wider public. “I don’t want to go back in the closet again, nor do I want these drawings to go back in the closet.”

This body of work comes from the 1940s and 50s, and expresses the playful and erotic aspects of Grant’s personality. Influenced by the Greco-Roman traditions and contemporary physique magazines, the works were produced in tandem with Grant’s public art, often sharing similar formal themes and techniques.

As a gay man, Grant spent the first 82 years of his life living as a criminal. He was born in 1885, seven months before the introduction of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, better known as the Labouchère Amendment, which criminalised all male homosexual sex in England regardless of any question of consent. These beautiful drawings, created under the shadow of the Act, are both joyful and celebratory. Charleston’s Head of Collections, Research and Exhibitions, Dr Darren Clarke tells the story of this incredible collection.

OUTing the Past

OUTing the Past: The International Festivals of Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Trans History is an international celebration that comprises of events throughout the year and around the world, and a conference and gathering for academics and activists once a year in February, during LGBTQ+ History Month.

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