Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ned Warren & John Marshall

Art Collectors and Lovers

Born into a fabulously wealthy Boston family of paper manufacturers, Edward Perry “Ned” Warren (1860-1928) was taunted as a schoolboy for being a sissy and a bookworm – and no wonder. It was his habit to get up at 5:00 a.m. so that he could study Greek before breakfast time. He kept a diary in which he detailed his schoolboy crushes, even writing poems about male classmates he particularly fancied. Ned made no attempt to keep his attraction to men a secret, much to the dismay of his distressed household.

Warren bristled at the Puritanical mores of New England, so he set his sights on Oxford, where the gay-friendly, all-male university scene was more to his taste. The English boarding school tradition was rife with consensual male/male sexual activity, and many of those habits continued to be practiced among the high born and well-connected young men at Oxford. Warren felt right at home wearing tweeds while courting his comely classmates over afternoon tea. He furnished his rooms with the finest silver, artwork, furniture, porcelain and crystal to provide a luxurious and impressive setting for entertaining his classmates. His rhapsodic speeches extolling the virtues of an all-male cult of Greek love found many sympathetic ears. As well, several university scholars focused on Hellenism and the homoeroticism of ancient art and culture, and Warren never looked back. From that moment he made England his home, and he soon became a major force in collecting and brokering Etruscan, Greek and Roman art, for which he had an uncanny passion. He also wrote a lengthy essay that was printed privately, A Defence of Uranian* Love.

*Uranian was a word used before the term “homosexual” came into use in the late nineteenth century.

During his second year at Oxford Ned met John Marshall, a middle-class Englishman who was studying to become an Anglican vicar. The two became lovers, and Marshall abandoned theology for the classics curriculum, taking top honors. After his father’s death in 1888, Ned began receiving an annual income of over a million dollars a year. The pair left Oxford the following year and set about converting an austere Georgian mansion (see photo above) in Lewes, East Sussex, into a showplace for classical art. Ned had proposed a plan by which the two would form a partnership to scout, purchase and broker the sale of antiquities. Marshall's parents, however, still expected their son to become a vicar, so Warren upped the ante, knowing that Marshall had long dreamed of living in a manor house. Worked like a charm. Marshall made his contribution to the new enterprise, as well. He educated himself to the point that he knew the value, provenance and authenticity of the pieces Ned was interested in, along the way becoming a skilled negotiator for such purchases. Warren's pockets were deep, and the couple began acquiring art to fill the vast rooms, albeit it at the same level and pace as famed collectors J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Frick. Warren went on to become what is generally considered the most important collector of classical antiquities in American history. Warren and Marshall eventually had complete control of the market. Almost everything that was good, whether a new find or an old one, came to them for first refusal; competition had all but ceased.

Ned (left) and John shown with their beloved terriers.

Ned commissioned an “anatomically enhanced” version of Rodin's The Kiss (Le Baiser), telling the sculptor that he wanted the male figure to have a prominent penis. Although earlier versions of this statue did not feature a visible male sex organ, Rodin happily complied. This sculpture, turned down by museums in America for being too explicit, now resides at London’s Tate Gallery. Warren’s many bequests to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and New York’s Metropolitan Museum included large collections of vases and pottery depicting pornographic male images. The Boston museum finally cataloged and exhibited a few of them in 1950, but the Metropolitan tossed theirs into storage, where they remain to this day uncataloged, unphotographed, unexhibited and unacknowledged. Warren’s gifts and acquisitions to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts made up ninety per cent of its classical collection, which is regarded as one of the finest in the world.

A solid silver six-inch tall drinking goblet dating back to the first century was found near Jerusalem, and Ned purchased it from a dealer in Italy soon after its discovery. Since known as the Warren Cup, it illustrates two scenes of a man and a boy having sexual relations while being observed by a servant boy. The craftsmanship is exquisite, especially the finely wrought facial expressions, drapery and hair.

Warren’s attempts to sell it to museums in London and the U.S. were unsuccessful, because of its controversial depiction of full-on anal sex between men. This important example of classical art thus remained in Ned’s personal collection, and even subsequent owners never put it on public display. It was not until 1999 that the British Museum in London purchased it for a tremendous sum, and photographs of its pornographic details were splashed all over England’s tabloid press (detail below). It has been on display ever since and attracts large crowds.

In 1991 David Sox published Bachelors of Art: Edward Perry Warren and the Lewes House Brotherhood, which describes and illuminates many of Ned’s male companions. Handsome, single young men joined Ned and John’s household, ostensibly to assist in cataloging their acquisitions. If any of the villagers questioned these domestic arrangements, they were mollified by Ned’s generous scholarships and donations to local causes. Although Ned traipsed about between homes in Maine, Boston, Rome and England, his partner John Marshall usually remained in Italy or Greece to affect on-site purchasing of classical art. Their exchange of letters reveals John’s complaints of loneliness, which led to his entering into a marriage of convenience with one of Ned’s female cousins, who sought to end her unflattering designation as a spinster. She and John had become advisers and purchasers of antiquities for NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art, so they spent most of their time together. Ned willingly financed the couple’s lifestyle in Italy, since it afforded him opportunity to pursue other young men. Almost immediately Warren took up with a handsome, straight English jock, making him his secretary and moving him into Lewes House, where he eventually started a family up on the top floor. Warren used his vast wealth to sponsor the educations of numerous young men who showed promise but had no money. His roving eye caused many a stormy scene in his on-again, off-again relationship with John Marshall. As he got older, however, Ned came back into John's fold.

For twenty years Ned, John and John's wife lived together under the same roof, Ned and John nestled together in the master bedchamber while John's wife slept elsewhere in the house. The three took every meal together and always traveled as a trio. After the death of John's wife, Warren and Marshall found themselves in residence at their apartment in Rome during the late winter of 1928. On the fifteenth of February John retired for the evening, saying that he was not feeling well. Ned gave him a kiss and joined him in bed, but John was discovered dead when Ned awoke the next morning. Ned, who never recovered from the shock, returned to England, where his own health rapidly declined. Ten months later John himself died in a nursing home at the age of sixty-eight, three days after Christmas.

Because of his open homosexuality, no members of Warren’s family attended the funeral, and none of the museums to which he had donated numerous and priceless works of art sent a representative to the January memorial service. Following the terms of Ned's will, the remains of Ned, John and John's wife were all interred under a sculpted urn in a small village in Italy where the three had often enjoyed the simple pleasures of the spa town.

Charles Eliot Norton, the American scholar and professor of the art history at Harvard, summed up Ned Warren in this fashion: “There is not and never has been in America or Europe a man with such capacities, will, and circumstances for collecting, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (antiquities collection) must be entirely dependent upon him."

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