'Obscene' art of DH Lawrence goes on show after 70-year ban

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When the exhibition was unveiled at the Warren Gallery in central London in June 1929, there was an instant outcry.

Images of a naked man and woman in thinly-disguised sexual poses proved too much for the faint-hearted sensibilities of the 1920s and were promptly seized by the police.

Yesterday, more than 70 years after they were banned for being "obscene", images of the paintings by DH Lawrence went on display in England for the first time since 1929. The paintings by Lawrence, who has proven to be as controversial an artist on canvas as he was on paper, were exhibited at the Waterstone's bookshop in Piccadilly, central London. The ban on the paintings remains, but police have said that they were unlikely to take action unless complaints were made.

The bookshop switched the exhibition from a public café to a room on the sixth floor. "We are not in the business of censorship. But the coffee bar area is a family space and we didn't want to cause offence to anyone, so we moved the exhibition," said a spokesman.

Lawrence's interest in exploring the boundaries of human relationships and sexuality was reflected in his novels and artwork. It was the year before the 1929 exhibition that Lawrence had published Lady Chatterley's Lover, a novel about an adulterous affair between an aristocratic woman and her gamekeeper.

The prurience of the British public that Lawrence so despised was confirmed in the instant banning of the book. It nonetheless became the work for which he was most well known. The ban was not lifted until 1960 - 30 years after his death. Despite his novels eclipsing his paintings in terms of critical acclaim, it was on canvas that his thoughts were immortalised in his final years. When the paintings were exhibited critics of the day instantly dismissed them as "gross and obscene".

Despite this by the time police seized 13 paintings, they had already been seen by some 12,000 visitors. They were placed in a prison cell and returned on the condition that they would never be exhibited in public.

The exhibition which opened yesterday and runs until 29 December, features copies of the original artwork which remain in Texas. Among the images on display are Contadini featuring a naked man and Leda, which depicts a swan nestling between the breasts of a reclining naked woman.