Rainbow Plaque 9 – Artist Robert H. Kitson

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Rainbow Plaque 9 - Artist Robert H. Kitson

Rainbow Plaque number 9, celebrating the life and works of Robert Hawthorn Kitson, can be found on the glass entrance to the Leeds Art Gallery. Kitson was a gay man from Leeds who chose to move to Italy at the turn of the 20th Century to escape the discrimination against the LGBT+ community and more specifically the legislation which made homosexual acts a crime of indecency in English law.

In 1885, the Labouchere Amendment to English criminal law set out the guidelines for judges to sentence anyone found guilty of such ‘indecent acts’ to life imprisonment; this Act would later be used to prosecute writer Oscar Wilde and revolutionary computer scientist Alan Turing. Kitson was fortunate enough to have been born into a wealthy family and so had the resources to move to Italy and build a home there. He arrived in Sicily in 1899 shortly after his father’s death and the stunning villa he built had views of Mount Etna. Kitson worked on watercolour painting and through his art he maintained a close connection with the city of his birth as a leading member of the Leeds Fine Arts Club.

On a personal level, Kitson found relative freedom in Italy compared to England. He made his home in a community of artists and aristocrats and was subsequently able to share a romantic relationship with a fellow British artist, a relationship which would not have been possible in England at the time.

Revered in Italy whilst in his prime, Kitson’s watercolour works are still celebrated today with collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in New York. The beautiful villa Kitson built in Sicily is now also considered to be of great artistic importance, having since been turned into a historic house museum.

The Rainbow Plaque commemorating all the artistic success that Robert H. Kitson enjoyed and his role as an early icon of the marginalised LGBT+ community is well worth a visit and can be found at Leeds Art Gallery on the Headrow near the Town Hall, or alternatively you can find Kitson’s plaque on the Rainbow Plaque Trail guide map available for download here.