Pride at the Getty

In honor of LGBT History Month this October, curatorial staff from across the Getty reflect on themes represented by the colors of rainbow flag through works in our collections.

By The J. Paul Getty Museum

and The Getty Research Institute

Pride, as we know it today, grew out of the June 1969 Stonewall uprising led by activists of color Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. One of the most recognizable symbols of Pride for those who identify as LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and everybody else in an expansive community, including our straight allies) is the rainbow flag.

It was originally designed by a group of volunteers led by artist and activist Gilbert Baker at the Gay Community Center in San Francisco, and first waved in the sky at the Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978.

The particular version of the flag we honor here includes the eight original colors (which stand for sexuality, life, healing, light, nature, magic, serenity, and spirit), plus brown and black, meant to symbolize the value of diversity and inclusion of all people.

Portrait (about 1963) by Emil CadooThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Black—Diversity

By Arpad Kovacs, Curator, Photographs: To represent the black stripe of the flag is this image by the American photographer Emil Cadoo. After studying Romance languages at Brooklyn College with the help of the GI bill, Cadoo worked as a photojournalist. In the early 1960s, he emigrated to Paris, where as a queer Black man he found racism and homophobia to be less overt.

He made this enigmatic photograph by combining multiple negatives, including a portrait of a young man in profile and one depicting foliage. 

Cadoo had a successful career in France working for fashion magazines and political journals. His photographs appeared on the dust jackets of several books—including this image on the cover of the 1964 edition of Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers—and in the pages of the provocative and influential literary journal Evergreen Review.

James Baldwin (1975) by Anthony BarbozaThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Brown — Inclusion

By Mazie Harris, Curator, Photographs:
“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that,” James Baldwin insisted, “so are we all.” 

Photographer Anthony Barboza found a way to hint at that “much more” in this meditative 1975 portrait of Baldwin. The author—known for his passionate and pointed writing on Black and queer life—seems lost in thought. 

Standing in a corner, his back to the wall, the expansive intensity of his mind is suggested by the dappled light that pushes against the edges of the frame. He appears at once self-contained and yet irrepressible.    

We are told over and over that looks don’t matter, that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, yet photographers are tasked with making surface effects somehow register the ineffable, the invisible. In his Black Borders series Barboza captured the interior life of celebrated Black musicians, artists, and athletes. He adjusted the lighting as each person adapted to the space of the studio, and as the sitter and photographer became accustomed to one another.

James Baldwin (1975) by Anthony BarbozaThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Perhaps the greatest gift that photography offers us, and certainly one of the aspects of Baldwin’s essays that I find most powerful, is the chance not only to encounter but also to empathize, to appreciate the powerful force of inner lives, however distant in time or place.

Wine Cup with a Boy Holding a Lyre (Underside) (480 BC) by DourisThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Pink—Sexuality

By David Saunders, Curator, Antiquities: Relationships between youths and older men were an important component of life in ancient Athens. Poetry abounds with expressions of physical desire, but companionship also encompassed education, physical training, and the cultivation of speaking and singing skills, all of which were key to being an active Athenian citizen. 

Images on drinking cups and other vessels used at the symposium—one of the key occasions for male socializing—are an important source for exploring how these relationships were imagined. But they also need to be recognized as idealizing, with painters often selecting motifs that extol particular aspects.

The encounters on the exterior of this cup, for example, privilege modest behavior, with the youths choosing to accept, or not, the advances of their elder suitors. One man presents a hare, a popular love gift symbolic of pursuit. In a second pairing, another hare sits tamely on the lap of a youth.

Among the objects hanging in the background are sponges, string bags, and oil jars (aryballoi). These suggest the gymnasium, which was another key location for male social activity.

Wine Cup with a Boy Holding a Lyre (Underside, detail), Douris, Python, 480 BC, From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
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Wine Cup with a Boy Holding a Lyre, Douris and Python, about 480 B.C., From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
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Wine Cup with a Boy Holding a Lyre (Underside), Douris, Python, 480 BC, From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
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Wine Cup with Pentathletes (Underside) (510 - 500 B.C.) by Attributed to Carpenter PainterThe J. Paul Getty Museum

A second cup juxtaposes athletic training with amorous affection. 

On the exterior are jumpers and discus-throwers, accompanied by a pipe-player.

Wine Cup with Pentathletes (510 - 500 B.C.) by Attributed to Carpenter PainterThe J. Paul Getty Museum

On the inside, a seated youth pulls his older lover down towards him for a kiss. In contrast to the other cup, this vignette seems unusual in showing the youth reciprocating his aficionado’s advances. But—given that this scene would appear to a drinker as he consumed his wine—perhaps it offers an optimistic expression of a lover’s hopes?    

Achilles among the Daughters of Lycomedes (about 1625–1630) by Pietro PaoliniThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Red—Life

By David Bardeen, Former Graduate Intern, Paintings: The painting is based on a legend in which Achilles’s mother, fearing her son would die if he fought in the Trojan War, entrusted him to King Lycomedes’s household, where he lived as one of the king’s daughters.

When the Greeks arrived to find Achilles, they presented the daughters with gifts of jewelry and clothes . . .

. . . but also a sword and a shield. 

Achilles reached for the weapons, revealing his “true” identity, and off he went to war. 

A friend once remarked that this is “Achilles in drag,” and while that’s not quite right, it suggests an enduring cultural interest in what constitutes gender and what makes us who we are. 

Tesh House (1991) by Franklin IsraelThe Getty Research Institute

Yellow—Light

By Johnny Tran, Curatorial Assistant, Getty Research Institute: Hailed as one of the most gifted architects of his generation, Franklin Israel died at age 50, a time when most of his fellow architects' careers were taking off. His struggle with AIDS motivated him to take greater risks in his designs. Israel started his career as a film set designer. However, it would be his work in residential houses for which Franklin was most notable. 

Tesh House, Franklin Israel, 1991, From the collection of: The Getty Research Institute
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Designed in 1991, the Tesh House sits in the high bluffs of Los Angeles's Mar Vista neighborhood. The model shows Israel's take on different spaces, windows, and heights within the house. This playfulness gives the structure a variety of rooms, from closed enclosures to light and airy, which fills the interior with natural light and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.

Propaganda (1988) by Franklin IsraelThe Getty Research Institute

Unassuming from its warehouse exterior, the offices of Propaganda Films are an experience in their own right. To fit the various needs of a film production office, Israel created an ambitious urban village within the building, fulfilling the client's wishes of an "office landscape."

A central "boat" forms the bulk of the space, dividing the office into zones for use as well as creating "streets" to travel around the building.

George Sand (about 1865) by Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon]The J. Paul Getty Museum

Green—Nature

By Casey Lee, Curatorial Assistant, Drawings: Amantine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin, better known as George Sand, was one of the most prolific authors of 19th-century France and had a rebellious reputation, often flouting traditional gender conventions by dressing in men’s clothing, smoking in public, and engaging in a number of high-profile affairs. Sand also enjoyed painting and drawing, a private undertaking that she took up in her later years.

A Volcano in Auvergne (1874) by Amantine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin, baronne Dudevant (George Sand)The J. Paul Getty Museum

In this “dendrite,” which is how Sand referred to her watercolors, the artist created the craggy surface of a dormant volcano by applying watercolor to a sheet of paper and crushing it against another. 

The resulting pooling of pigment outlines the crater’s ridges.

Sand situated the crevasse before distant mountains and under a cloudy sky.

The Chemical Wedding of Hermes and Aphrodite (1687) by Matthäus Merian the ElderThe Getty Research Institute

Turquoise—Magic

By David Brafman, Rare Books Curator, Getty Research Institute: This image of a hermaphrodite references the original myth, in which Hermaphroditus is simply the offspring of the god Hermes and goddess Aphrodite, born with “male” and “female” sex organs. In alchemy, the figure is adapted into a symbol for creating the illusion of gold. 

Herm of Hermes Herm of Hermes, Unknown, second half of 1st century A.D., From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
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Statuette of Aphrodite Statuette of Aphrodite, Unknown, 300–200 B.C., From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
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Hermes, the Roman Mercury, stands for the element mercury. Aphrodite comes to be a symbol for copper. The island of Cyprus, her birthplace, was heavily mined in antiquity for copper (the word copper is actually derived from “Cyprus”).

The Chemical Wedding of Hermes and Aphrodite (1687) by Matthäus Merian the ElderThe Getty Research Institute

Alchemical imagery often expresses transformation by metaphorically toying with the ambiguity of gender as a physical illusion. Despite the offense that the term ‘hermaphrodite’ has for a contemporary community, there is something compelling in the way that this image vaunts alchemy’s ability to tap what is chameleon in physical identity.

Alchemy is a science tinged with spirituality and a spritz of artistic spirit. And among its most spirited expressions is . . . Poof. Magic. 

Gender is a transitory illusion. True identity is an embedded secret, waiting to be empowered.

The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (1469) by Lieven van LathemThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Indigo—Serenity

By Bryan Keene, Former Curator, Manuscripts: Saint Sebastian was a Roman imperial captain who was shot with arrows by fellow soldiers because of his faith. In the late 1400s, manuscript illuminator Lieven van Lathem depicted Sebastian with a serene look on his face, as golden rays emerge to form a halo around his head.

A prayer across the pages reads, “Console us in times of tribulation, and bring us remedy in times of plague and epidemic.”

Sebastian has long been a patron saint of queer individuals, especially during the outbreak of AIDS in the 1980s and for a spectrum of gay men specifically (from twinks to twunks, and from bears to the BDSM and leather scenes).

Numerous contemporary artists have referenced the saint in their art, including Ron Athey and Catherine Opie, Keith Haring, Kent Monkman, and Kehinde Wiley. The ubiquity of Saint Sebastian images in art finds a harrowing parallel in the litany of names and faces of LGBTQ+ individuals who have been murdered around the world, including Tony McDade and Nina Pop.

Self Portrait (1900/1910) by Elisar von KupfferThe Getty Research Institute

Violet—Spirit

By Pietro Rigolo, Modern and Contemporary Collections Curator, Getty Research Institute: Elisar von Kupffer, also known as Elisarion, was an Estonian-born poet, artist, and gay-rights activist. Together with his partner Eduard von Mayer, Elisarion founded a religion called Clarism, which tried to reconcile their faith and longing for an afterlife with their identity as queer men.

Interior view of the Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion by Elisar von KupfferThe Getty Research Institute

Clarism attracted virtually no followers other than the couple. Nevertheless, between 1927 and 1939, the two built a temple to this new religion in Minusio, on Lake Maggiore, known as the Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion.

With Clarism, von Kupffer and von Mayer favored a vision in which two forces, one good and one evil, were always at play. These forces occupied two worlds in constant opposition: the Chaotic World, where humans lived, and the Clear World of the Blessed. The blessed beings of their Clear World were conceived as beings beyond gender and sexual impulses, living in an eternal state of falling in love, and beauty worship.

Von Kupffer was an amateur photographer, and would often use himself as the model for the figures in his paintings.

The Souls before Their Judge, Elisar von Kupffer, 1910/1930, From the collection of: The Getty Research Institute
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Flowers and Butterflies, Elisar von Kupffer, 1910/1930, From the collection of: The Getty Research Institute
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Self Portrait, Elisar von Kupffer, 1900/1910, From the collection of: The Getty Research Institute
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Self Portrait, Elisar von Kupffer, 1900/1910, From the collection of: The Getty Research Institute
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Interior view of the Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion, Elisar von Kupffer, From the collection of: The Getty Research Institute
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Credits: Story

This story was inspired by the article Art, Pride, and the Rainbow Flag on the Getty Iris blog.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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