The Warren Cup, British Museum, via Wikimedia Commons
June 11, 1860 – Edward Perry Warren:
“The world, however callous, is not yet dead to the ideal.”
Edward Warren was born into a fabulously wealthy family in Boston. He was taunted as a schoolboy for being a sissy. He kept a diary detailing his crushes on other boys, composing odes of love about favorite male classmates. Warren made no secret of the men he was attracted to, much to the dismay of his family.
Warren just wasn’t made for life in Puritanical New England, and he traveled to England so he could study at Oxford, an all-male university. Oxford was rife with consensual male-on-male sex action between aristocratic, well-connected young men. Warren felt right at home wearing tweeds while courting his comely classmates. He furnished his rooms with the very best art, furniture, silver, porcelain and crystal.
He spoke out about the virtues of Greek. Several Oxford scholars focused on the homo-eroticism of ancient art and culture, and Warren was bitten. He decided to make a life for himself in England and he soon became a major force in buying, selling and collecting Etruscan, Greek and Roman art.
Warren also wrote the three-volume A Defence of Uranian Love, written under his pen name Arthur Lyon Raile and privately printed in 1928-1930. He always and rightly called this work his magnum opus: it is the clearest clarification at the motives that lay behind his acquisition of Graeco-Roman antiquities for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and other prominent collections. Warren:
“My verses and my prose advocate a morality, but it is not the current morality in certain matters.”
This is a playful understatement; Warren’s book is a map to a Utopia where “Grecian grandeur” is restored, and the “Christian sublime” is banished; where masculine virtues versus the feminine that have mistakenly led to democracy, sexual purity, and feminism; where aristocracy, nobleness, and male supremacy establish a civilization like the ancient Spartans, could and must flourish. “Uranian” was a term used for “homosexual” in the late 19th century.
At Oxford, Warren met John Marshall, a middle-class young man who was studying to be an Anglican vicar. They became lovers, and Marshall abandoned Theology for the Classics Department. After his father’s death in 1888, Warren began receiving an annual income of over a million dollars a year (that’s five million in 2020 dollars). The boys left Oxford the next year and began restoring a Georgian mansion, The Lewes House, into a showplace for ancient art.
Marshall taught himself the value, provenance and authenticity of the pieces of art Warren was interested in, and became an especially skilled negotiator for the purchases. Warren was deliriously wealthy, and the couple began acquiring art to fill the vast rooms. Their collection rivaled those of famed collectors J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Frick. They became the most important collectors of classical antiquities in the world. Warren and Marshall eventually had complete control of the market. Almost everything that was good, whether a new find or already discovered, came to them for first refusal.
Warren commissioned an anatomically enhanced version of Auguste Rodin‘s (1840 – 1917) Le Baiser, telling the sculptor that he wanted the male figure to be especially well-hung. Although earlier versions of the famous statue did not feature a visible penis, Rodin happily agreed. This sculpture was turned down by museums in America for being too explicit, but you can see it at The Tate London.
Warren donated many pieces to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and New York City’s Metropolitan Museum, including collections of vases and pottery depicting pornographic male images. The Boston Museum finally cataloged and exhibited a few of them in 1950, but the Met put theirs in storage, where they continue to sit uncataloged, unphotographed, unexhibited and unacknowledged. Warren’s gifts the Boston Museum Of Fine Arts make up 90% of its classical collection, regarded as one of the finest in the world.
Man and Ephebe, 6th Century B.C., Boston Museum Of Art
Relief depicting a palaistra scene, Roman, 1st century A.D., Boston Museum Of Art
A solid silver six-inch tall drinking goblet dating back to the first century was found near Jerusalem, and Warren purchased it from a dealer in Italy soon after its discovery. Known as The Warren Cup, it shows two scenes of a man and a boy having sex while a servant boy watches. The craftsmanship is exquisite, with finely detailed facial expressions, hair and draping.
Detail from The Warren Cup, British Museum
Detail from The Warren Cup, British Museum
Warren tried to sell it to museums in Europe and America, but no one would touch it because of its depiction of full-on anal sex between two dudes. It is a major piece of classical work, but it stayed in Warren’s personal collection, and even subsequent owners refused put it on public display. Finally, in 1999, the British Museum purchased it for a huge sum, and photographs of its pornographic details were splashed all over England’s tabloid press. It continues to attract large crowds.
Handsome, single young men joined the Warren-Marshall household, ostensibly to assist in cataloging the acquisitions. The couple kept homes in Maine, Boston, and England, but Warren spent most of his time in Italy and Greece purchasing classical art. Their letters reveal Marshall’s complaints of loneliness. Marshall married one of Warren’s female cousins, who sought to end her unflattering designation as a spinster. They became advisers and purchasers of antiquities for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while Warren pursued young men. He used his vast wealth to sponsor the educations of numerous young men who showed promise but had no money. This arrangement started a stormy on-again, off-again relationship with Marshall. As they got older, the men became a couple once again.
For three decades Warren, Marshall and the wife lived together with the men nestled together in the master bedroom while the wife had her own rooms in the house. They took meals together and traveled as a trio. After the death of Marshall’s wife, the men took up residence at an apartment in Rome during the late winter of 1928. One night in February Marshall went to bed early, saying that he was not feeling well. Marshall was gone by the next morning. Warren never recovered. He returned to England, where his own health rapidly declined. 10 months later, Warren joined Marshall.
Warren (l) with Marshall by Edward Reeves with their much loved terriers via Wikimedia Commons
Because he was open about his gayness, Warren’s family did not attend his funeral, and none of the museums to which he had donated numerous and priceless works of art sent a representative to the memorial service. The ashes of Warren, Marshall and the wife are all interred under a sculpted urn in a small village in Italy where the trio had often enjoyed the simple life.
In 1911, Warren had adopted a four-year-old child, Travis Warren, who grew up at Lewes House calling Warren “Papa”. Warren left Lewes House and its adjoining properties to H. Asa Thomas, “his secretary”. He left his other properties to Charles Murray West, another “secretary”. Both Thomas and West sold the properties a few years after Warren’s death. Travis Warren inherited $3,000 a year managed by his guardians up to 28 years old. From 28 to 32 years old he was to receive $20,000, plus $200 a month, and his guardians could invest up to $30,000 on his behalf. At the end of the trust, he was to receive $3,000 a year. Despite this money, poor Travis was destitute by the end of his life.
For more, check out Bachelors of Art: Edward Perry Warren And The Lewes House Brotherhood (1991) by David Sox.
I found a copy of A Defence Of Uranian Love on Amazon for $1900 while writing this #BTD.