Wilhelm von Gloeden
Untitled [Two Friends]
Albumen silver print
6.69 x 4.72 in (17 x 12 cm)
Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856 – 1931) created some of the first homoerotic photography in the late 19th century, primarily of Sicilian youth. These works feature naked boys, often donning wreaths and other props conjuring Greek antiquity, a time when homosexuality was accepted as normative and sexual orientation was not the social identifier that it became in modern society. Von Gloeden’s photographs were radical during a Victorian time marked by the passage of the Labouchere Amendment in 1885 which criminalized male homosexual activity in the United Kingdom. Oscar Wilde, a significant supporter of von Gloeden’s work, was famously prosecuted under the law in 1895 and sentenced to two years hard labor, shortly after which he passed away.
Suffering from ill health in his early twenties, von Gloeden moved to Taormina, Sicily where he was eventually joined by his sister. From Taormina, he would travel throughout Italy, visiting his cousin Wilhelm von Pluscrow, a commercial photographer based in Naples, who taught him photographic techniques. The onset of financial problems together with the gift of a camera lead to von Gloeden’s early photography – selling postcards of the landscape and monuments of Sicily and taking portraits of the local inhabitants. The villagers attitude to von Gloeden’s open homosexuality was eased by his generosity and the royalities he paid his models, as some of the images sold by the thousand. After von Gloeden’s death in 1931, the Italian authorities, considering his work as pornographic, destroyed an estimated three thousand glass plate negatives and prints and by the end of the Second World War, only a few hundred images survived.
Galerie Au Bonheur du Jour by Nicole Canet, Paris
Lot 170, Aste di Antiquariato Boetto, 26 April 2022
Other works in the Neal Baer Collection
Wilhelm von Gloeden, Untitled [Two Boys on a Rock], 1904