Partner John Deakin

Queer Places:
Harrow School, 5 High St, Harrow HA1 3HP, UK
University of Cambridge, 4 Mill Ln, Cambridge CB2 1RZ
30a Orchard court, London SE26 4DQ, UK
Marwell House, Whaddon Ln, Owslebury, Winchester SO21 1JL, UK
Hanover Gallery, 32a St George St, Mayfair, London W1S 2FL, UK
Arthur Jeffress Pictures, 28 Davies St, Mayfair, London W1K 4NA, UK

Arthur Tilden Jeffress (21 November 1905 – 21 September 1961) was a colourful and influential gallery owner, collector, and patron of the arts in post war Britain.[1] In the pre-war years he was one of Britain's Bright Young Things. He died in 1961 and left his art collection to the Tate and Southampton City Art Gallery.

During much of the 1930s his boyfriend was John Deakin (who would become an important photographer of Soho in the 1950s and also influenced Arthur’s art collecting.)[12] The 1920/30s was a transformative period for gender identity.[13] As one of the queer Bright Young Things he was exposed to many gay role models - from the more staid Osbert Sitwell to the more outlandish Evan Morgan.[14] His personal identity settled into Osbert’s more conservative end of the spectrum. But he clearly enjoyed the campiness and flamboyance of the queer BYPs and he kept a small bit of this pre-war flair as part of his persona throughout his life.

On 21 November 1931 Arthur hosted the last and one of the most extravagant BYP Monster Balls – The Red and White party.[15] The party was held at the West Wing of Holford House in Regent’s Park. It was the home of Maud Allan, the famous dancer and femme fatale [16] and was one of the grandest addresses in London.[17] Many aspects of Arthur’s pre-war self can be seen in the Red & White Party. By this point Arthur was well connected to London’s young elite social set. 250 invites went out– although nearly 400 people attended.[16] The decor of the party was an over-the-top design success. Guests were requested to dress in only Red and White costumes – and they came in beautiful outfits including red and white sailor suits, white nun habits, all white evening dress, white sashes, red wigs and long white gloves.[16] The rooms were all extravagantly decorated in red velvet and white silk. Even the food and drinks were red (red caviar, lobsters, salmon and white (champagne, wine, and gin.) Arthur’s colorful personality had emerged. He greeted guests wearing a sailor suit made of white angel-skin with red trimmings, a ruby necklace, two diamond clips and a spray of white star orchids.[16] A man dressed as Queen Elizabeth sat in the hall playing Abide with me on the organ. People danced until dawn. It was a grand success but as the party ended so did the period of the Bright Young Things.[18] The depression had arrived and war was on the horizon. Throughout the rest of Arthur’s life he would make good use of connections, sense of design and personal flair developed during his Bright Young Thing days.

Arthur Jeffress, 1955 - Graham Sutherland -
Arthur Jeffress, 1955 by Graham Sutherland

Marwell House, Owslebury

After the war, Arthur returned to Britain with new energy to continue exploring his passion for art.

Hanover Gallery – In 1947 Erica Brausen and Arthur opened the Hanover Gallery at 32A St George Street just of Hanover Square, London.[40] Erica had been working at other galleries including the Redfern Gallery, had a keen artistic eye and knew the gallery business. She and Arthur shared a passion for art, were both homosexual and were each eager to establish their own gallery.[11] Erica ran the business, Arthur provided the financial support and his social connections to potential customers, and they both collaborated on its artistic focus. Francis Bacon was one of their earliest artists and they gave him his first solo exhibition in 1949.[40] Other artists included Graham Sutherland, Lucien Freud and many others. In 1953 Erica and Arthur decided to part ways. The financier Michael Behrens was visiting the gallery one evening when Brausen mentioned in passing that she would be closing up the next day, so Behrens bought it from Jeffress.[41] Arthur opened his own gallery.[11] Erica continued to run the Hanover Gallery to great acclaim, with close links to Bacon; it remained open until 1973. The Hanover Gallery over its life is remembered as being “one of the most diverse and interesting galleries in Europe.”[40]

Arthur Jeffress (Pictures) – In 1954 Arthur Jeffress (Pictures) opened at 28 Davies Street, London.[42] Arthur convinced Robert Melville to join him from the Hanover Gallery to run his new gallery. Unlike the Hanover Gallery, Arthur Jeffress (Pictures) did not represent individual artists. Arthur would buy paintings he and Robert liked from artists, other galleries and auctions, then curate them into shows and sell them.[11] This approach allowed the gallery to show a broad range of works – the unifying artistic theme was Arthur’s and Robert’s taste. Peyton Skipwith, described the Gallery as “specifically appeal(ing) to the more esoteric connoisseur… exquisite for the exquisites.”[11] Arthur was masterful at marketing his gallery. Like his friend Bunny Roger,[43] he leveraged his extensive social network and his personal flair to brand / promote his business. Arthur and his gallery were one of the most colorful figures/institutions in the London Art scene during this period.[44]

Personal art collection - By the late 1950s Arthur had an art collection of hundreds of works – although he did not think of himself as a collector.[42] His approach to collecting was unlike most collectors (such as his friend and fellow collector, Peggy Guggenheim,)[45] Arthur’s collection was constantly changing.[42] At various times it included works by works by Chagall, Delacroix, Delft, Delvaux, Lucian Freud, Modigliani, Matisse, Picasso, Pollock, Rouault, Rousseau, Simbari, Soutine, Sutherland, Weenix, and many others.[46][47]

Arthur took his own life on 21 September 1961 while staying in at the Hotel France et Choiseul in Paris.[48]

The reasons why are not known.

Some have speculated that it was due to an incident in Venice. Arthur had a home in Venice, where he stayed for a few months each year. There he owned a gondola and employed a couple of handsome, young gondoliers to ferry him around. One night at a grand Venetian dinner party, the Duchess of Windsor asked if Arthur would take her back in his gondola. This was a great honor for Arthur, but unfortunately his gondoliers had gone off “carousing.” Arthur was furious and shortly after fired the gondoliers - who in turn, it is alleged, went to the police and denounced Arthur as a homosexual. At the time the homophobic Venetian authorities were trying to purge the city of foreign homosexuals. Arthur left for Paris. Many speculate that, heartbroken at being outed as a homosexual and exiled from Venice, Arthur took his life.[49][50][51]

This theory – that this one event would cause Arthur to take his life - is a bit simplistic. Indeed, in a 3 November 1961 letter between his friends, Truman Capote and Cecil Beaton, Truman expresses bewilderment as to the cause of their friend’s death and does not even raise the Venice incident as a potential reason.[52]

His friend Robert Melville knew Arthur well and simply stated that “Arthur…came finally to the point of wondering whether the world wanted him or not.”[42]

Arthur was generous in life and in death.[53] He left his art and money to communities he cared about:[54]

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