Bathing Fishermen in the Blue Grotto of Capri is one of the most widely known and valuable pieces in the collection of Schwules Museum. Created by Ferdinand Flohr around 1837, it documents how Southern Italy became a popular destination for (homo)erotic desires in the first half of the 19th century. The grotto was discovered by gay artist August Kopisch during one of his swimming exercises. He propagated his discovery as a new “wonder of the world” and more discretely acclaimed the local “tramps offering their services” – attarcting personalities like August von Platen, Hans-Christian Anders und Johann Winckelman.
The latter wasn’t all too impressed by the muscular, tanned bodies at first, however revised his judgement about the “appealing physique” of the local population shortly afterwards – one can only speculate why.
The painter Flohr captures the place’s subtle eroticism through the juxtaposition of dressed and half-naked men.
In 2008, the painting was acquired from the collection Andreas Sternweiler through financial support of the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States and other sponsors. For a long time, it was on display in the old location on Mehringdamm and graced the cover of the respective exhibition catalog Selbstbehauptung und Beharrlichkeit: Zweihundert Jahre Geschichte. Most recently, the piece was shown in the exhibition Winckelmann – The Divine Sex (including the passage about tramps offering their services).
With rips and minor fractures appearing in the painting, the end of the exhibition saw the need for an encompassing restoration of the piece. Furthermore, the rather improvised framing situation was to be replaced by a permanent and stylistically more appropriate solution.
With the generous support of more than 4.000€ by the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States and more than 3.700€ of donations which were collected thanks to the tireless efforts of the archive management and museum employees, the restoration was taken on by Dorothée Beckmann-Budczinski in the end of 2017. Today, the painting shines in new splendor and is in custody of framebuilder Olaf Lemke in Schöneberg.
In July 2018, the piece will eventually return to the museum – unfortunately, first of all to the archive. When and where the painting will be accessible for the public again in the framework of an exhibition is going to be decided in the upcoming meetings.
Text and picture: Bastian Neuhauser