The Charleston Attic

Category: Bloomsbury

New Faces at Charleston visit Tate Britain’s Queer British Art

Bathing 1911 by Duncan Grant 1885-1978Duncan Grant, Bathing, 1911. Oil paint on canvas. Photograph © Tate.

We have just joined Charleston as interns to finish cataloguing the Angelica Garnett Gift of paintings and drawings by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

By way of introduction, we visited Tate Britain’s exhibition Queer British Art: 1861-1967 which runs until 1 October.  The exhibition ‘explores connections between art and a wide range of sexualities and gender identities’ during the century before the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967.[1]

Diana says ‘On entering the exhibition the initial impression is of a conventional Victorian display of classical sculpture and paintings in a somewhat gloomy setting.  Then as my eyes adjusted I could see that the curators have selected the artworks with an eye to a queer aesthetic.  The muscular male nude ‘The Sluggard’ (1885) by the highly successful Lord Leighton, contrasts with the delicate drawings of Simeon Solomon, whose life ended in poverty after a criminal prosecution.  For me, the exhibits raised the question of what could and could not be shown in public.  By-and-large, the focus is on what was displayed during the artists’ lifetimes.’

‘Leaving the dark Victorian galleries, it came as something of a relief to enter a much lighter room focusing on ‘Bloomsbury and Beyond’.  Duncan Grant’s ‘Bathing’ (1911) dominates this room and is accompanied by Grant’s private drawings from the Angelica Garnett Gift which were lent by Charleston.  Grant’s work is complemented by portraits of people linked to the Bloomsbury Group, such as Paul Roche, which look out boldly into the room.  In these pictures, straightforward contemporary settings replace the classical allusions which had made earlier works acceptable to the public.

‘The scope for different identities is examined in the next room on ‘Defying Convention’.  A highlight here is Laura Knight’s wryly-titled ‘Self Portrait’ (1913) where the artist shows herself fully clothed and painting a female nude, prompting the audience to consider whose sexuality is on display.’

Vanessa adds ‘Something that struck me in the exhibition was the attention given to clothing, the dressed and undressed body, and the influence this had in signifying or subverting ideas of queerness.  Symbolising the importance of clothing in the exhibition was Roger Fry’s portrait ‘Edward Carpenter’ (1894).  Painted with a proud stance Carpenter’s long dark coat is referred to as a ‘very anarchist overcoat’.  His coat is no longer merely a thing to keep him dry, it is a thing that represents his socialist ideas, reflecting his activism for the rights of homosexuality.’

‘A personal highlight from the exhibition was William Strang’s ‘Lady with a Red Hat’ (1918).  In this portrait Vita Sackville-West wears an incredible red hat and is posed rather elegantly.  We learn of her dismissal of modern conventions as she often wears men’s clothing and has a male persona named ‘Julian’.  This portrait acts as a binary into Sackville-West’s life.  On the one hand she is shown as a fashionable woman of the time, on the other we see how she hides her male persona behind the very clothes she wears, subverting the perception of the viewer away from the ‘Julian’ and hinting at her complex sexuality.

‘Charles Buchel’s portrait of lesbian writer ‘Radclyffe Hall’ (1918) further suggests how dress can reflect identity.  Encapsulating women’s fashionable clothing of this period, Hall wears a skirt and jacket.  Predominantly worn by men, the addition of a cravat to her ensemble blurs the boundaries between what women and men should and should not wear embodying and embracing ideas of gender fluidity.  In addition, room 3 specifically looks at theatre and performance.  The performative nature of fashion and clothing is evident here.  We see ‘Soldiers in Skirts’ poster from 1945 and several 1920s photographs taken by Cecil Beaton where both men and women are dressed in women’s clothing and heavily made-up, often making it difficult to distinguish between male and female subjects.’

Queer British Art: 1861-1967 highlights the importance of fashion in queer art. Whether alleviating oppressions, dressing up, highlighting gender fluidity or questioning convention.’

‘We both really enjoyed the exhibition and it was ideal for giving us the wider context to life at Charleston.’

This is an exciting time for Charleston which has lent works by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell to the Sussex Modernism exhibition at Two Temple Place, London, which runs until 23 April 2017, and to the Vanessa Bell: 1879-1961 solo exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, which is on until 4 June 2017.  Later this summer, Clare Barlow will be speaking at Charleston’s A Gay Outing – further details will be announced on  Charleston’s website.

Diana Wilkins and Vanessa Jones

 

[1] Tate Britain, ‘Queer British Art: 1861-1967’, Tate Britain (London), 2017

Berwick Church murals – preliminary sketches by Duncan Grant

Prompted by a collection of drawings and sketches found inside a thin blue cardboard folder labelled ‘Berwick Church’ (CHA/P/603), this week’s blog article examines some of Duncan Grant’s preliminary studies for the painted wall murals created for Berwick Church in Sussex between 1941 and 1944.

On the 10 October 1943 a dedication service was held at St Michael and All Angels Church in Berwick Village in honour of the completion of a collection of new wall murals designed and painted by local Bloomsbury artists’, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and her son Quentin.

Although they had been commissioned in 1940 by Brighton-based, Bishop Bell, the designs were not fully approved by Berwick’s Parish Church Council until a year later. It was recommended that the murals be painted on plasterboard panels which were constructed in a barn at Charleston.[1] The first set of murals entitled The Annunciation and The Nativity by Vanessa Bell, Christ in Glory by Duncan Grant and The Wise and Foolish Virgins by Quentin Bell were largely finished by January 1943 and raised into position by spring that year.[2]

The first few sketches in the folder are connected with Bishop Bell himself, besides a full portrait study of him kneeling, there is a detailed study of his mitre and his crook. These were preliminary sketches for the figure of Bishop Bell as represented in the group of church officials to the right hand side of the arch in Christ in Glory.

cha-p-603-9_c

CHA/P/603/9, Duncan Grant, Dr. Bell kneeling, c. 1943. © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

893bbf6acbed

Berwick Church murals, Duncan Grant, detail of Bishop Bell kneeling, c. 1942. © of the Estate of Vanessa Bell 1961 and the Estate of Duncan Grant 1978, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett. Photograph: berwickchurch.org.uk/bloomsbury.

cha-p-603-4_c

CHA/P/603/4, Duncan Grant, The Bishop’s Crook. © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

cha-p-603-3_c

CHA/P/603/3, Dr. Bell’s Mitre, c. 1943, © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

For Grant, Bishop Bell was

 ‘a most obliging sitter, going down on his knees so that Duncan could draw him in the position he wanted and lending him his elaborate crosier, robes and mitre so that work could continue in his absence’.[3]

However, work on the church decorations did not end with the dedication service. In April 1944 a new Faculty was granted for decorations to the chancel screen and pulpit, a crucifixion on the west wall and an altar picture.

The last two sketches in the blue folder (CHA/P/603/14 and CHA/P/603/11) appear to be preliminary designs for The Crucifixion or The Victory of Calvary, a mural of Christ on the cross completed by Duncan Grant in 1944.

f2a94d5c8e15-victory-of-calvary

Duncan Grant, The Crucifixion or The Victory of Calvary, Berwick Church mural, 1944, © of the Estate of Vanessa Bell 1961 and the Estate of Duncan Grant 1978, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett. Photograph: berwickchurch.org.uk/bloomsbury.

cha-p-603-13-c

CHA/P/603/13, Duncan Grant, preliminary sketch for The Crucifixion, c.1943, pencil on paper, Berwick Church murals. © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Likely to be experimenting with ideas for the composition of Christ, Duncan Grant was clearly influenced by his admiration of early Italian Renaissance art in this pencil sketch. He had visited Florence some forty years earlier in 1904 with his mother Ethel and spent every day at the Uffizi copying works by artists such as Piero della Francesca and Masaccio.[4] It is also likely that he visited Basilica di Santa Croce, the main Franciscan church in Florence where he would have seen Crucifix, 1287–1288 a work by Cimabue which probably provided inspiration for his later pencil study.

450px-cimabue_025

Cimabue, Crucifix, 1287–1288. Distemper on wood panel, 448 cm × 390 cm. Basilica di Santa Croce. Photograph: The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei.

Grant particularly favoured the work of Michelangelo, in the autumn of 1910 he was copying Entombment c. 1500-01 at the National Gallery in London.[5] In his sketch for The Crucifixion mural Christ’s head is depicted in a bowed position, slightly crooked to one side echoing the pose of Christ’s head in Michelangelo’s painting.

entombment_michelangelo

Michelangelo, Entombment, c. 1500-01, tempura on panel, National Gallery, Photograph: National Gallery.

d94e205361fb

Duncan Grant, preliminary sketch for The Crucifixion or The Victory of Calvary, Berwick Church mural, 1944, © of the Estate of Vanessa Bell 1961 and the Estate of Duncan Grant 1978, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett. Photograph: berwickchurch.org.uk/bloomsbury.

In the preliminary sketch by Grant for The Crucifixion shown on the Berwick Church website, Christ is drawn in more detail; the head is still in the same position as in CHA/603/13 but the loin cloth is draped differently. In the coloured version of the drawing, the head is straighter and the cloth is tied and more full rather than draped. However, Christ’s torso in Grant’s coloured study CHA/P/603/11 is similar in shape and composition to that in Cimabue’s work.

cha-p-603-11-c

CHA/P/603/11, Duncan Grant, preliminary drawing for The Crucifixion, Berwick Church mural, c. 1943, gouache on paper. © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Edward Le Bas, a close friend of Duncan Grant modelled for the figure of Christ in The Crucifixion mural.[6] When compared with the sketches detailed above, two other  studies CHA/P/2543 and CHA/P/2544 in the Angelica Garnett gift catalogue certainly seem to indicate that Grant was sketching from a life model, especially considering the detail depicted in muscle definition and proportion. Moreover, the head position, raised and looking upward to the right side is also nearer to that of the finished mural. 

cha-p-2543-r

CHA/P/2543 (above) and (below) CHA/P/ 2544, Duncan Grant, preliminary study for The Crucifixion, Berwick Church mural, c. 1943, pencil on paper, © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

cha-p-2544-r

It was in 1943, at the time that Grant was working on the church murals that Edward Le Bas first visited Charleston. He recalled his visit in a letter to Grant dated 2 July 1943:

‘I did enjoy the weekend, you’ve no idea how much: to see again how life can really be lived [….] The church paintings grow in my mind in calmness and power.’[7]

References:

[1] Frances Spalding, Duncan Grant: A biography, Pimlico, London (1998), p. 382.

[2] http://www.berwickchurch.org.uk/bloomsbury%20at%20berwick%20home.html

[3] Frances Spalding, Duncan Grant: A biography, p.384.

[4] Ibid., p.33.

[5] Ibid., p.97.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., p.397.

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: