The Charleston Attic

Month: March, 2016

Highlights from the Gift

As we come to end of our six months together in the Charleston Attic we look back over pieces we have found in the Gift, but have not had the chance to write about.

tangiersblog2

CHA/P/2523 Recto. Duncan Grant, Tangiers Landscape, pastel and pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

We have found another example of Grant’s sketches from El Farah, the house where he stayed in Tangiers, an unexpectedly extended vacation we discussed a few weeks ago. This sketch is annotated as “from El Farah” suggesting this is the view from Duncan Grant and Paul Roche’s ground floor bedroom-come-studio.

hitchcockblog

CHA/P/2552 Recto. Duncan Grant, drawing, Alfred Hitchcock, pen on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Later in life Duncan Grant sketched from his television. Here we see a quick sketch of Alfred Hitchcock which Grant has signed, noting too that he completed the study from film. As Frances Spalding notes in her biography, in 1957 Grant saw television for the first time and wrote to Vanessa Bell “I really think it is the end of civilisation as we know it… but of course one can’t help glancing in its direction from time to time”.

posterblog

CHA/P/2472 Recto. Duncan Grant, study of a horn for poster “Musical Instruments for the Front”, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

This is a study for the poster that Duncan Grant designed in c.1918 which read “Wanted! Wanted Musical Instruments for the Front… If you have any musical instruments to give the soldiers at the front write at once”. The posters were printed by David Allen & Sons Ltd. Charleston has recently acquired one of the few remaining posters known to survive which alongside this preliminary study provides insights into his design practice.

vblithographblog.jpg

CHA/P/2443 Vanessa Bell, Lithograph, London Children in the Country. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

One box that we have worked through during our time here contained various examples of woodcut prints and lithographs executed by both Bell and Grant. Read more about these prints and the significance of print making in both artists’ works in our previous blog here. This lithograph is by Vanessa Bell and is believed to illustrate the experience of evacuated children from the capital city in the countryside around the beginning of the Second World War. The print design dates from 1939.

berwickblog

CHA/P/2413 Recto. Vanessa Bell, painting, Berwick Church study, paint on canvas. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

This is a study of a lamb by Vanessa Bell which would go on to make part of her final mural design for The Nativity at Berwick Church executed in 1942. Berwick Church commissioned these murals by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell in the early 1940s and they can still be seen today. You can walk from Charleston to Berwick Church; find the route on our walking maps available in Charleston’s shop.

grantblog

CHA/P/2253 Recto. Duncan Grant, figure study, pen on newspaper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

This piece illustrates the inter-textuality of many of the works found in The Angelica Garnett Gift. Here Duncan Grant has penned a nude figure study on a page from The Nation, signing this sketch in a different pen at a later date, and adding the note “can’t make out/ don’t remember the sitter”.

As our season here comes to an end we welcome and wish good luck to the new Attic interns Emily Hill and Philippa Bougeard.

 

Zoe Wolstenholme and Rebecca Birrell

 

Spotlight Lectures: Research in the Attic

Next Thursday we will be presenting our research through public lectures held at Charleston in the historic barns. We will talk about our individual research projects looking in depth at items found in The Angelica Garnett Gift. These talks mark the beginning of the summer season and the house will also be open accessed via guided tour which you can book here. Book a place on our Spotlight lectures here.

Please do come to this free event and talk to us about our projects and the Angelica Garnett Gift. Here are some introductions to our talks:

Vanessa Bell’s Faceless Portraits and The Angelica Garnett Gift

event_image_44018_1456917421

CHA/P/2586 Recto. Unattributed, painting, seated portrait in yellow, paint and crayon on paper. © The Charleston Trust

The Angelica Garnett Gift exposes the extent to which Bell and Grant sketched, both casually for pleasure and as a mode of thinking through concepts for their work. Sketching – especially in such volume – appears to voice an admission regarding representation itself. Their throwaway, unserious, unfixed quality shrugs before the monumentalising pressure of the portrait. Unsure of itself ontologically and aesthetically, the sketch offered a medium closer to Bell and Grant’s perception of human life. Conditioned by shifts in science, philosophy and psychoanalysis, the British avant-garde began to understand and depict experience as fluid, unstable and marked by a profound alienation.

This paper will argue that the importance afforded to sketching surfaces in the incorporation of its visual vocabulary into Vanessa Bell’s portraits, which are characterized by blurred, featureless faces.

Rebecca Birrell

Dressing Modern Identity: Victorian style re-imagined in The Angelica Garnett Gift

CHA-P-2454-R-C-Blog

CHA/P/2454 Recto. Duncan Grant, drawing, Omega hat designs, c.1912. pen on paper. © The Charleston Trust

In her letters as a young woman Vanessa Bell illustrates her stories of sartorial conquests with sketches of the silk coats and dress shapes that hung in her wardrobe. She delighted in purchasing fabrics abroad and went on to suggest dress design as an endeavour for the Omega Workshops. Duncan Grant’s career also shows an active interest in dress through his costume designs for the theatre and in his Omega hat and fan designs. However, the importance of dress is often overlooked in Bloomsbury academia. I seek to illuminate the pervasive presence of dress as a mode of expression in the work and lives of Bell, Grant, and their contemporaries. My argument pivots upon two specific sartorial finds in the Angelica Garnett Gift consisting of two pages of hat designs by Duncan Grant annotated “Omega Hats 1912.c.” and a Vanessa Bell sketchbook that reworks the image of the fan, resulting in a pattern design for a printed fabric in c.1946. Both reinterpret these specifically Victorian styles to make statements about Modern identity through dress.

Zoe Wolstenholme

“Chloe liked Olivia”

a conversation

A Conversation, Vanessa Bell. 1913-1916. Photograph © The Samuel Courtauld Trust

Compiling research for her survey of contemporary women’s fiction in 1929, Virginia Woolf came across a startling line in a novel by Mary Carmichael: Chloe liked Olivia. Carmichael’s statement may appear straightforward, but it radically refuted all Woolf’s reading thus far.

Do not start. Do not blush. Let us admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes happen. Sometimes women do like women.

One needn’t look far to find women in discord, their relations ruptured by jealousy; anything more nuanced has been ‘left out’, Woolf laments in A Room of One’s Own, ‘unattempted’. Novels may busy themselves endlessly over women’s relation to men, but rarely are the particulars of female friendship afforded any significant attention in literary culture.

Three women huddle by a window, deep in conversation; a bed of tulips rise from the garden beyond as if straining to catch any stray chatter. Bell’s 1913-1916 painting A Conversation precedes Woolf’s passionate polemic by nearly fifteen years, yet appears to capture precisely what Woolf saw as so lacking in fiction. Original and defiant, Bell’s piece discards the trappings of heteronormative domesticity Woolf regarded as so pervasive in the representation of her peers. Intimacy, Woolf argues, has not been authentically imagined beyond the confines of straight coupledom; however Bell’s scene boldly discards men and their concerns, celebrating rather a feminine, communal model of kinship. Maternity one of few themes in the art historical canon enabling depictions of female subjectivity is similarly shunned. Instead Bell conjures a scene of women powerfully asserting their presence, vividly breaking the silence imposed upon them by literary and artistic culture. Just as Bell can be observed adapting her bathing scenes to attenuate the more prurient, dominant gaze of the genre, she here paints women at ease in a homely environment without recourse to typical beauty or elegance. Their bodies are large, arranged in a tense formal arrangement expressive of the confidential, conspiratorial mood of the moment. Further, where a reductive vision of women’s relationships once reigned, ambiguity now holds sway: dressed in a navy smock, the woman leaning from the left of the frame is wide-eyed, perhaps anxious; the remaining pair return her gaze, but their expressions are vague, impenetrable.

Indeed, the subtleties underpinning conversation between women was especially fascinating to Woolf, who hoped for a fiction dedicated to:

those unrecorded gestures, those unsaid or half-said words, which form themselves, no more palpably than the shadows of moths on the ceiling, when women are alone, unlit by the capricious and coloured light of the other sex.

Bell’s vibrant signature palette and sensitivity to intersubjectivity illuminated her female subjects their idiosyncratic gestures, their affinities and affronts long before Woolf made these demands of her own medium. Woolf and Bell’s tireless efforts to complicate the representation of women in their chosen forms is especially pertinent today, International Women’s Day.

Duncan Grant and El Greco

CHA-P-2612-Rblog.jpg

CHA/P/2612 Recto. Duncan Grant, drawing, study of El Greco’s Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara (c.1600)  Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

The box of loose pages that we are currently working through in the Angelica Garnett Gift has been transporting us to warmer climes over the past few weeks. Last week we stepped inside Grant’s heady Moroccan landscapes, capturing the knotted kaleidoscope of exotic foliage under the vibrant Tangiers sun. This week we follow Grant’s influences to Spain and to the work of El Greco. We have unearthed a Grant study of El Greco’s Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara (c.1600) and thus turn towards the artistic legacy of the continent and the influence of El Greco’s Mannerist style in the Late Renaissance on Grant’s and his contemporaries’ works.

Domenikos Theotokopoulos is better known as “El Greco”, meaning “The Greek”. He was born in 1541 on the island of Crete, then owned by Venice, and travelled to Venice itself to study art under Titian. Here he was influenced by Tintoretto and Bassando before moving on to Rome to study Michelangelo and Raphael. He was also greatly influenced by Byzantine art, having grown up in Crete, and his style can be referred to as Post-Byzantine. By 1577 El Greco had moved to Spain where he would stay for the rest of his life. Duncan Grant’s work has similar influences in both the Renaissance Masters and the Byzantine style.

El Greco The MET

Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara by El Greco, c.1600. Photograph © The MET.

El Greco’s Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara is noted for its original style, much discussed sitter, and relationship to the history of Spain. It is now widely accepted that the sitter is Niño de Guevara and not his successor to the position of Inquisitor General, Cardinal Bernardo de Sandoval y Rojas (1546–1618). The portrait shows Niño de Guevara as a man of power who held an important role in the Spanish Inquisition. Walter Liedke has noted that

“The portrait was probably painted in March and April 1600, when the cardinal (aged about 59) was in Toledo for several weeks. His visit began as part of the king and queen’s formal entry into the city on March 2; a few days later an auto-da-fé was held at which Philip III vowed to protect the Holy Office and forty-six alleged transgressors were assigned unfortunate fates.”

On his visit to Spain in 1936 Duncan Grant made his way via bus from Malaga via Algeciras to Cadiz where he saw an El Greco painting before moving on to Murillo. He spent Easter here. Frances Spalding sets the scene:

“When Holy Week began, its streets filled with elaborate processions in which enormous Madonnas with glass tears and scarlet and gold robes were carried slowly through town accompanied by mournful trumpet music. On Easter Sunday 1936 he stood outside the cathedral and watched as five bishops, all in mitres, said mass while young men holding candles lined the altar steps.”

Grant is quoted saying “[t]hey really were a magnificent sight, rather like a Greco – it would be fun to paint them”. He is clearly inspired both by the traditions of the Catholic Church and the artistic heritage of Spain. However, the painting that Grant had seen in Cadiz, just weeks before the motifs of El Greco came to life before his eyes on Murillo’s cathedral steps, cannot have been Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara as the painting was, by this time, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The painting was sold some time between 1901-1904 to Durand-Ruel, the famous Impressionist art dealer, who then sold it to the Havemeyers in New York. The painting was bequest from the family to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1929. It is possible that Grant could have seen it whilst it was with Durand-Ruel as he did visit him on occasion but perhaps it is more likely that this study was made from a reproduction image, perhaps inspired by his visit to Spain in the 1930s.

Grant’s study is a gestural piece which eliminates background detail to focus on the sitter. It is a dynamic work which captures the posture and presence of the Cardinal in bold graphite, amplifying the chiaroscuro of the piece. Indeed, El Greco’s positioning and distortion of bodies was an inspiration for Cubist artists, working at the same time as Grant. El Greco’s works were cited as an inspiration by various Modern artists from Picasso to Pollock. Roger Fry in particular noted how Cezanne had been inspired by El Greco’s “great discovery of the permeation of every part of the design with a uniform and continuous plastic theme”. Indeed, perhaps this is another aspect of what interested Grant about the artist. His study does not further distort the figure into a Cubist or Abstract style but is a true exercise in copying, perhaps in order to better understand El Greco’s compositional practice.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: