Magazine article Tate Etc.

The Invisible Man

Magazine article Tate Etc.

The Invisible Man

Article excerpt

Behind the Curtain - Royalist, revolutionary, pacifist, arms dealer, Communist, right-wing extremist, con man arid traitor. Who was Gerald Hamilton (c.1 888-1 970)? He claimed among his friends Christopher Isherwood, Jean Cocteau, Guy Burgess, Richard Strauss and Aleister Crowley. As one writer discovers while researching Hamilton in the Tate archive, the truth about the man is elusive

I didn't expect to find many references to Gerald Hamilton in the Tate archive. He is the invisible man of the twentieth century. His three autobiographies imply that he was one of its most significant figures, and yet he rarely appears in the authorised accounts of the events in which he claimed to be involved, or the biographies of the people he said he knew. The discrepancy can't be explained by his Walter Mitty-ish tendencies', no doubt he exaggerated, yet hisZe/Zg-like knack of appearing in the background while history was being made was real. At various times, he was a royalist and a revolutionary, a pacifist and an arms dealer, a Communist and a right-wing extremist. He was also a con man and a traitor, and the only Englishman-or Irishman; both his name and nationality are disputed - be arrested for treason in both World Wars.

These days he is best remembered as the model for Arthur !Morris, the antihero of Mr Norn's Changes Trains, the first of Christopher Isherwood's two novels about Berlin in the last days of the Weimar Republic. The clearest reference to his existence in the archive is the cover of the Hogarth Press edition of 1935.

Isherwood's hero "once modestly described himself as a gentleman", begins the blurb, hinting atthe real person that lay behind the fictional creation: "There were others who did not agree with him. This candid but affectionate portrait, by one who came to know him only too well, is concerned with a single episode in his sensational career, Its background is the Berlin of 1930-1933, a city of prostitutes and political gunmen, on the edge of starvation and civi) war..." John Banting's drawings convey some of Norris's eccentricities: the presence of both hammer and sickle and swastika anticipate his attempts to profit from the ideological struggle in Germany, and black leather boots and a whip attest to his sexual proclivities (Hamilton was homosexual, but isherwood made Norris a masochistic heterosexual). …

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