The Charleston Attic

Category: Design

Book illustrations and jacket designs by Duncan Grant

As Charleston looks forward to a weekend of Centenary celebrations, ‘The Attic’ is being specially prepared to open its doors for visitors this Sunday 16 October. Rarely on show to the public, the space, accessed by narrow, steep stairs at the top of the farmhouse was once Vanessa Bells’ studio and now stores Charleston’s extensive archive collection and works of art.  

My first blog post as Charleston’s ‘Attic intern’ showcases some of Duncan Grant’s book illustrations and book jacket designs from the 1960s. Newly catalogued from the Angelica Garnett Gift is a collection of Duncan Grant’s correspondence regarding his illustrations for a previously undiscovered short story by Virginia Woolf featuring ‘Nurse Lugton’ and a book jacket design for a novel by Margaret Lane called A smell of burning.  

Nurse Lugton’s Curtain.

A letter dated 18 May 1865 written to Duncan Grant by John Willett of The Times Literary Supplement [TLS] discussed available space in the supplement for the ‘story and illustrations’:  

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CHA/E/253, ‘Letter to Duncan Grant from John Willett deputy editor of The Times Literary Supplement’, 18 May 1965. © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Further research has revealed that ‘the story’ referred to in the letter was a children’s tale written by Virginia Woolf featuring a character named ‘Nurse Lugton’. It had been newly discovered in 1965 by children’s fiction author, Wallace Hildick (1925-2001). According to an article written by Hildick published in TLS of the 17 June 1965, this story had been found in the second volume of the Mrs Dalloway manuscript acquired by the British Museum in 1963. Hildick edited the story and it was framed with illustrations drawn by Duncan Grant and published alongside the newspaper article. [1]

 

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‘Children’s Books, The ….. by Virginia Woolf’, The Times Literary Supplement, Thursday, June 17, 1965; pg. 496; Issue 3303. © News International Associated Services Limited Gale Document Number: EX1200337421.

Also in the archives from the Angelica Garnett Gift are two manila envelopes which refer to Virginia Woolf’s story; item CHA/E/252 once contained an illustration and item CHA/E/251 is inscribed by Duncan Grant with a handwritten list of illustrations, such as ‘1. Nurse Lugton asleep’ which probably refers to the illustration of Nurse Lugton in the Times article.  

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CHA/E/252, verso, manila envelope, © The Estate of Duncan Grant: Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

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CHA/E/251, verso, manila envelope with inscription, © The Estate of Duncan Grant: Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

The Virginia Woolf Collection at the E.J. Pratt Library at the Victoria University in the University of Toronto holds a Duncan Grant drawing entitled Nurse Lugton was asleep with handwritten notes by Duncan Grant of the opening passage of the story, first published in 1965 in a collection as Nurse Lugton’s Curtain. In this version of the drawing Nurse Lugton looks somewhat different to her Times Literary Supplement counterpart.

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Duncan Grant (1885-1978), Nurse Lugton was asleep, study for a page of Nurse Lugton’s Curtain by Virginia Woolf PR6045.O72 N8 1991 VUWO. Photograph: Victoria University in the University of Toronto.

A smell of burning

A letter from Roger Machell of Hamish Hamilton to Duncan Grant dated 10 August 1965 refers to Grants interest in designing a jacket for a novel by Margaret Lane (1907-1994) called A smell of burning.

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Margaret Lane, A smell of burning, 1965, Hardcover, 1st Edition. Published 1965 by Hamish Hamilton. Image: Goodreads.com. Cover design by Duncan Grant.

The letter contains two sketches, one by Margaret Lane’s husband, Lord Huntingdon and the other by Margaret Lane herself ‘showing the kind of window that might make a suitable basis for a design’.[2]

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CHA/P/ 3122, Lord Huntingdon, Drawing (1), ideas for jacket design for A smell of burning, 1965. © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

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CHA/P/ 3121, Margaret Lane, Drawing (2), ideas for jacket design for A smell of burning, 1965. © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Author and critic Margaret Lane was the former wife of Brian Wallace, son of writer, Edgar Wallace. She was the second wife of Lord Huntington whom she married in 1944. The couple lived at Black Bridge House in Beaulieu where her artistic talents were expressed  ‘Bloomsbury’ style: according to Elizabeth Jenkins writing Margaret’s obituary for the Independent,  her ‘creative faculty found expression in decorating surfaces [….] and in her later life the hobby of covering screens, pasted with a collage of scraps, wonderfully collected, each of them a work of art’.[3]

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Godfrey Argent, Margaret Lane (Lady Huntingdon), bromide print, 28 July 1969, Photographs Collection National Portrait Gallery x165942. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

[1] Wallace Hildick, ‘Virginia Woolf for Children?’, The Times Literary Supplement (London, England), Thursday, June 17, 1965; pg. 496; Issue 3303.

 [2] CHA/E/255, ‘designing a jacket for A smell of burning’, Letter from Roger Machell (editorial director) of Hamish Hamilton (publishers) to Duncan Grant, 10 August 1965, The Charleston Trust Archives. 

[3] Elizabeth Jenkins, ‘Obituary Margaret Lane’, Independent, Thursday 17 February 1994, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-margaret-lane-1394635.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Europa and the Bull in ‘The Arts’

 

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Duncan Grant, illustration for ‘Europa and the Bull’ poem by W Rodgers, ‘The Arts’ journal, 1946.

This week in the Gift, we look at a series of objects that reveal a more commercial side to Duncan Grant’s work. In 1946 a commission by ‘The Arts’ a modern art journal, under the editorial supervision of Herbert Read, Edward Sackville-West, and Desmond Shawe-Taylor, provided a public platform for a new artistic collaboration. Grant’s contribution to the magazine was a painting and illustrated poem of ‘Europa and the Bull’ by W. R. Rodgers.

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‘The Arts’ Issues One and Two, Lund Humphries & Co Ltd; London.

‘The Arts’ was interdisciplinary in nature, covering a range of artistic forms and practices within each issue. The first two issues feature in detail painting, sculpture, architecture, theatre, film, music, poetry and philosophy. The journals were designed to be aesthetically stimulating, presenting cover work and illustrative interpretations of poems and prose by contemporary artists alongside high quality colour lithograph plate representations of more prominent works.

The utilization of a variety of paper and print techniques emphasize the depth and detail in the featured images; the subsequent quality of the images were evidently realized by the editorial board. Content was also held in high regard as the journal features many esteemed writers such as Clive Bell (this was most likely the connection that secured Grant his commission), Edward Sackville-West, Robert Medley, Sir Kenneth Clark, Benedict Nicolson and Raymond Mortimer amongst others. At ten shillings a book the high quality was quite matched by the price, and readership would have most probably been limited to the educated middle classes. With only two issues published, Issue One in 1946 and Two in 1947, information regarding the journal is unfortunately limited.

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 CHA/P/2705 Recto. Duncan Grant, design for ‘Europa and the Bull’ poem by W Rodgers, pen on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Duncan Grant’s works in the gift includes studies for the illustrated poem as well as the final piece used. Gaining inspiration from ‘Europa and the Bull’, Grant’s form emulates classical mythology as well as the natural world. The cross-hatching of black penned lines against the text blurs the poem into the piece, mirroring the imperfect lines of language. Impressionistic in line, the inscribed pen strokes add texture and tone to the image.

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‘The Arts’ Issue One, Lund Humphries & Co Ltd; London.

The opening page of the poem and thus Grants illustrated segment (this original was not found in the AG gift), is strikingly juxtaposed with a large photograph. An abstracted female form seated pronounces a smooth modernist sculpture by Henry Moore, which sits opposite the contrasting classical design. A black pen illustration envelopes the poems text, showing seated female nudes frolicking in the textured grass. This work somewhat mirrors the panels Grant produced for the Cunnard Commission, a design for interior decorative panels to be exhibited on RMS Queen Mary (although these were later rejected).

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‘The Arts’ Issue One, Lund Humphries & Co Ltd; London.

 The feature comes to a close with a lucid and bright painting by Grant. A matte paper displays the colours in block form and in an array of fresh pastels we are finally introduced to Europa. She lays nude on the back of the Bull, one arm above her head gesturing playfully with a red scarf, the bull moves steadily through the water, expressive of a unity between them.

Two images within the gift show studies for this final print, evidencing differing concepts for the composition of the piece. Grants inspiration from the myth of Europa is clear; where Zeus captures her in the form of white bull and their sexual relationship legitimises Europa’s powerful son, King Minos of Crete.

CHA/P/2626 & CHA/P/2627 Recto. Duncan Grant, designs for ‘Europa and the Bull’ poem by W Rodgers, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

The piece below is a design that did not make the final print, though it could have been inspiration for the final image used as the same colour palette is evident.

CHA/P/2704 Recto & Verso. Duncan Grant, design for ‘Europa and the Bull’ poem by W Rodgers, inscription “Design for ‘Europa and the Bull’ poem by W Rogers, (sic) c1945”, pencil and gouache on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

This set of images were not Grants only work produced for the journal; also linked is a study for a front cover of ‘the Arts’ in his usual bold style full of form and movement. Figures appear to be dancing across the pages, acrobatics with circular instruments create motifs repeated throughout the piece displayed in the curves of the male physique and reflected in the text form. We do not know if this was an early study for one of the initial two journals or a suggestion for the next, nevertheless production for ‘the Arts’ was unfortunately discontinued in 1948.

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CHA/P/1803 Recto. Duncan Grant, cover design of ‘The Arts’ journal, never produced, watercolour on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

 

 

At Charleston, ‘The kitchen was always warm and smelt of fresh coffee.’

For those who are regular readers of the The Charleston Attic blog, and have been following our progress as the newest Attic Interns through our work with the Angelica Garnett Gift, it may be of interest to hear that we have been spending some time away from the collection and from the attic in favour of the annual Charleston Festival.

Our festival roles took us downstairs through the house and into the kitchen. In keeping with the annual Festival tradition of curatorial services-turned-catering, we became fully immersed in our duties as ‘Green Room Hosts’; preparing for, receiving and generally looking after our guests with gusto. Perhaps we could have been seen as following in the footsteps of Grace Higgens (albeit for a very brief period), who worked tirelessly for over fifty years in the kitchen at Charleston.

 

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Axel Hesslenberg, The kitchen at Charleston. Photograph, The Charleston Trust © Axel Hesslenberg

Grace, who worked for the Bell family and at Charleston as a housemaid, nurse, cook and housekeeper, was regarded by Quentin Bell as ‘being mostly in the kitchen’. Grace’s daughter-in-law, Diana Higgens, who first visited her at Charleston in 1952, also recalled; ‘Grace spen[ding] long hours in the kitchen…’ Of Grace’s kitchen duties, she recalls that she was constantly busy; ‘…the Aga was her only means of cooking and had to be stoked up night and morning with coke. The kitchen had a concrete floor that she washed most days with a mop and bucket…The sink was an old yellow stone one, with a wooden draining board and a plate rack above to drain the plates off.’

Whilst the kitchen was altered quite a bit in the 1980s during the restoration, it has nearly always been used as a working kitchen from the days that the Bell family occupied Charleston. A photograph of it after the restoration, taken by Alan MacWeeney in the late 1990s, for the book, ‘Charleston: a Bloomsbury house and garden’, shows that the post-war modern adaptations, such as the refrigerator and Aga, acquired when Grace was working there, still serve as adequate when the kitchen is used for entertaining today.

From her visits, Diana Higgens remembered that, ‘The kitchen…was warm and always smelt of fresh coffee.’ We can report that there was not a dissimilar atmosphere present in this room during the Festival! Despite the fact that this room has always been used as a kitchen, what has changed about the original function is that meals are now eaten in here as opposed to the dining room, where the family and their guests ate.

In addition to its prevailing homely and comfortable atmosphere, which Quentin Bell described as ‘cheerful and convivial’, what also remains unchanged about the kitchen at Charleston is the amount of people around the table. When she worked there, Grace always had visitors, including the postman, who would stop for a chat and a cup of tea. Virginia Nicholson pronounces it, ‘a most welcoming place to spend time.’; as a child, she and her siblings would ‘help her [Grace] bake and scrape out the bowl afterwards.’ Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell were also not averse to entering the kitchen on a regular basis. In taking charge of the running of the household, Vanessa Bell would come down at the beginning of each day to discuss meal and other requirements with Grace, and Duncan Grant would often gather the plates after a meal and bring them in from the dining room into the kitchen for Grace to clean.

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Axel Hesslenberg, Tiled plaque situated behind the Aga cooker, made by Quentin Bell as a testimony to Grace Higgens’ devotion to Charleston;  the kitchen at Charleston. Photograph, The Charleston Trust © Axel Hesslenberg

Despite the observed formalities between the family and Grace when she worked for them, she was, according to Quentin Bell, ‘a central figure in ‘Bloomsbury…coping [within her role] in the most amicable manner with the eccentricities and vagaries of artists and their friends.’ The tiled plaque dedicated to Grace behind the Aga in the kitchen made by Quentin Bell after her retirement from Charleston is a recognition of her faithfulness to the family. It reads: ‘She was a good friend to all Charlestonians.’

 

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Tony Tree, Grace Higgens, who sits in front of her portrait painted by Vanessa Bell in 1943, Photograph © The British Library

From our time working in the kitchen at Charleston, we have gained an insight into how it was run as a household. We have also had the privilege of hosting a variety of fascinating guests; it really has been a pleasure to be a part of this year’s festival.

 Certainly we have more of an appreciation for Grace; for the extent of her duties and for the long hours that she must have worked. Without her services, it would have been impossible for Bell and Grant to produce the work that they did, and with that thought in mind we return to our work with the collection.

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