Main content

Rare artwork unveiled as LGBT History Month begins in Islington

Kenneth Halliwell's 1966 screen, dubbed 'World of Cats'

Kenneth Halliwell's 1966 screen, dubbed 'World of Cats'

View | Download ( JPG - 1.34 MB )
A rare artwork bought for the people of Islington through the generosity of anonymous donors and an Art Fund grant has gone on public display for the first time.
 
The five-and-a-half-foot, four panel screen – decorated with a collage of cats and known as ‘World Of Cats’ – was created in 1966 by artist Kenneth Halliwell, who lived in Noel Road, Islington, with his playwright partner, Joe Orton, between 1959 and 1967.
 
It went on show yesterday at the start of the borough’s LGBT History Month celebrations and is a key addition to the council’s new ‘Islington Pride – an archive for the future’ programme, a two-year project to collect artefacts from the borough’s rich LGBT heritage. The artwork and exhibition can be seen at Islington Museum, EC1V, until 13 March 2017.
 
At the start of the 1960s Halliwell and Orton notoriously stole books from Islington libraries, defaced them and returned them after pasting in pictures of male nudes, toys, and birds, and salaciously re-written copy.
 
They were eventually caught and imprisoned for six months for theft and ‘malicious damage’ to the library books. It is thought their sentence was in part so harsh because of their homosexual relationship, which was then illegal.  
 
The defaced book jackets are now seen as subversive artworks and permanently kept at Islington Museum. In 1967 Halliwell killed Orton before committing suicide.
 
The screen was acquired by Peggy Ramsay, Orton’s literary agent, whose estate donated it to a charity auction in 1999 where it was purchased by a private collector.
 
Last year the one-off piece was bought by the council, at a public sale, with the generosity of the Art Fund and anonymous donors, for £8,000.  
 
Islington Council’s executive member for community development, Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwarz, said: “The story of Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton is synonymous with Islington, and this artwork is a valuable addition to the borough’s collection of their defaced book jackets.
 
“It’s fantastic that this screen has been returned home to Islington where it can be enjoyed by the public not just as a work of art but as a valuable piece of our borough’s cultural history. We are very grateful to the Art Fund, and our generous anonymous donors, for helping to make this happen.”
 
Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund director, said: “This is a clever coup by Islington Council – a great work with a rich context.  Art Fund was really pleased to be of help in securing an unusual and excellent new acquisition for London’s public to enjoy.”
 
The screen is also due to appear in July 2017 in a new Islington Museum exhibition marking the 50-year anniversaries of Orton and Halliwell’s deaths and the 1967 Sexual Offences Act and its impact on Islington’s LGBT community.
 
For more details of Islington’s LGBT History Month events see http://bit.ly/2j0R5Rl.

For more information contact:

Eugene Grant
Senior Media Officer
0207 527 2530
eugene.grant@islington.gov.uk

Islington Museum staff unpack Halliwell's 1966 screen.jpg

Islington Museum staff getting the screen ready for unveiling

View | Download ( JPG - 941 KB )