The Charleston Attic

Category: History

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, Duncan Grant, Dr. Bell kneeling, c. 1943. © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.


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:


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


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.


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:


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.


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.


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


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:

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, 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 (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.


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]


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


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

[4] Ibid., p.33.

[5] Ibid., p.97.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., p.397.






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.

The Arts 17

‘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.


 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.


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



Queer Heritage at Charleston

Lives and loves at Charleston have always aroused interest. The Bloomsbury group famously ‘loved in triangles’ often swapping friends for lovers and then back again, though part of its history that garners less space in its extensive writing is Bloomsbury’s queer heritage.

Virginia Woolf, although married to Leonard Woolf, had a relationship with English poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West.  A writer who wrote openly about queer relationships within in her novels, Woolf has been retrospectively labelled one of the most influential queer authors of the early 20th century. Woolf’s Orlando (1928) is a story about a young man who wakes up to find himself in a woman’s body and features two married women who embark on a long and romantic affair.  Orlando is believed to include five queer characters and discusses thoughtfully and importantly, sexual and gender ‘nonconformity’.

 CHA/P/2655 Recto. Duncan Grant, study of a male nude seated, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Duncan Grant had sexual relationships with Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes, Arthur Hobhouse, David Garnett and Adrian Stephen (though this is certainly not an exhaustive list). His sexuality informs much of his art, often portraying strong male nudes, many post-coital and occasionally erotic in nature. These images are beautiful evidences of his sexual and aesthetic desires.


 CHA/P/2656 Recto. Duncan Grant, study of a male nude lying on back, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Grant’s appreciation of the male (and female) form is evident in his work, much of his artistic oeuvre is absorbed in the human body and its movement. His creative production was one of the ways Grant expressed his identity at a time when established assumptions about gender and sexuality were both discriminatory and dangerous. Consequently, Grant is to be featured in a ‘Queer British Art’ exhibition at the Tate Britain in 2017, marking the 50 year anniversary of the decriminalization of male homosexuality in England. The queer heritage of Bloomsbury is also celebrated at Charleston, whether it be through guided tours, new research, or special events. LGBTQ narratives at Charleston specifically relating to Grant are not made to define his work, but to contextualize it. Many of his sketches and paintings show significant intimacy and interpretations of these works would be impossible in ignorance of the artist’s sexuality.


CHA/P/2666 Recto. Duncan Grant, study of two male nudes, pen on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Museums roles have been fundamentally changing in recent years, and now much of their value is centered as agents of social change. Museums can, in many ways, contribute to a less prejudiced society; in providing context for contemporary issues they can share a narrative of the world and the past which is more inclusive of all citizens. Finally awarding a visible history to groups that have been for generations consistently marginalized, can go some way to promote and begin a process of healing.


CHA/P/2671 Recto. Duncan Grant, study of a male nude standing, pen on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Charleston both acknowledges and celebrates its queer heritage; within house tours this information is inseparable from the history of the place and its occupants.  In 2010 a podcast was created exploring aspects of Duncan Grant’s life as a gay man. Previously unpublished interviews with Duncan Grant from 1969, together with new recordings by gay men who visited the house in the 1960s and 1970s, investigated the history of the house at this time as well as Charleston’s place within a wider queer history. In the summer of every year Charleston holds a ‘Gay Outing’ in conjunction with Brighton pride; a popular event which holds talks, film screenings, panel discussions and tours, all with LGBTQ focus.

On Vanessa Bell’s Birthday: 30th May 1879

Vanessa Bell née Stephen was born on this day in 1879. A key member in the creation of the Bloomsbury aesthetic, Vanessa was a prolific worker and over the course of her life produced vast quantities of paintings, drawings, interior design and furniture decorations, woodcuts, book covers, textile and crockery designs. There is a large portion of her work in the AG Gift, spanning from her earliest days at Charleston to her death in 1961.

CHA/P/606 Vanessa Bell. Sketchbook. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Today, on the day of Vanessa Bells birthday, we are sharing works found in Charleston archives, that celebrate the legacy she left here.


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CHA/P/174 Recto. Vanessa Bell, The Kitchen,  c.1943,  painting.  Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Painted from inside Charleston this image shows a young Grace Higgins, Charleston’s housekeeper (1920-70), in the kitchen  preparing a meal. A basket of fresh vegetables from the garden lay in the foreground these would have been an important part of supplementing rations during wartime. With the help of Grace, Vanessa ran an orderly and welcoming household and Grace’ work meant that Vanessa could paint full time.


 CHA/P/2501 Recto. Vanessa Bell, print of classical scene in Rome, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Vanessa’s travels are well documented in the gift and she explored France, Italy and England often in the summertime. Painted during a trip to Rome this image shows a picturesque scene of a church with sculptures that stand on plinths in front of its facade. Vanessa was inspired by both the classical architecture and art of these destinations. Many classical figures and studies are featured within sketchbooks in the gift.



CHA/DEC/3 Vanessa Bell, Fireplace early 19th Century, painted 1925-30, marble. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

This colourful and modern fireplace painted between 1925 and 1930 shows Vanessa’s skill in abstracted domestic design. Proudly displaying her cross hatching and circular motif this playful piece is perhaps a quinessential example of Bloomsbury design aesthetic. Situated in Clive Bell’s study this is one of the first objects visitors view when visiting Charleston today.

‘Collaboration at Cambridge: Bloomsbury Heritage in Domestic Aesthetic’

Last week was #MuseumWeek 2016, and to celebrate, The Charleston Attic will once again be joining institutions all over the world by writing a blog post reflecting one of the themes trending on Twitter.

Thursday’s theme of cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, shows the scope for discovery within the several thousand works on paper and canvas that make up the Angelica Garnett Gift.

Last week also marked our independence as the new Attic Interns as we continue with the task in hand: to photograph, catalogue and publish Grant and Bell’s works so that they may be viewed online. There is much excitement to be had in unearthing new items in the collection, and it seems like the perfect opportunity, in celebration of Charleston’s cultural heritage through the Gift, to talk about this week’s findings in relation to the theme.

We have been looking closely at two sketchbooks by Duncan Grant; dated circa 1919 and 1923 respectively. Grant, as we well know, was always drawing- his sketchbooks alone make up a large part of the Gift. The earlier sketchbook contains preparatory figurative studies for the mural that Grant and Vanessa Bell had designed for John Maynard Keynes’ rooms at Webb’s Court, King’s College, Cambridge in 1920. These were the second set of murals that John Maynard Keynes had commissioned from Grant for his Cambridge rooms; the first being in 1910. These four panels were covered some years later and the room redesigned in 1920, when a new mural was put in place.

JMK Cambridge Murals.jpg

Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, Mural for John Maynard Keynes (1920), Webb’s Court, King’s College. Photograph © King’s College Archives.

Filling entire pages in the book, the figurative studies in pencil and charcoal are emphasized by the variations of shadow and shading made through the boldness of the pressed line on the faded cream paper. Looking at Grant’s sketches of these figures, his focus on certain parts of the body is apparent. His large rough outlines of hands and feet, drawn as appendages to the shapely legs and arms continuing off the pages, conveys bodily movement, as we imagine what the figures would look like as a whole.


CHA/P/2620/19 Duncan Grant, study of feet, pencil and charcoal on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust



CHA/P/2620/9 Duncan Grant, study of hands, pencil and charcoal on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

The figures depicted on the panels are vivid; they are painted in bright colour, and are almost life-size. The poses they strike are dynamic. Although they are dominant – as painted figures they are made the focus of the space’s decoration – the poses they strike are less sexualized than the figures in the original mural by Grant, where surviving photographs show a revel of semi-nude male and female dancers cavorting in a lush vineyard, their baskets burgeoning under the weight of nature’s pleasures in the form of fresh fruit.

‘Grant’s imagery links the abundance of nature with the sensual pleasures of wine, music, and the body, so that nature is figured as sensual and sensuality is asserted as natural.’, writes Christopher Reed about the scene in the early mural in ‘Bloomsbury Rooms’. ‘These themes anticipate the subsequent half-century of Bloomsbury’s domestic iconography, and, in broadest terms, express the group’s determination to implement a domestic existence in opposition to the conventional Victorian equation of civilisation with dominion over nature and discipline over the body.’

The figures in Grant’s initial 1910 mural and in his later 1920 collaboration with Bell are classical, a decidedly  Post-Impressionist aesthetic that harks back to the Renaissance. This is as much a reflection of his painterly style as it is of Bell’s, and it marks one of their earliest artistic collaborations in interiors.


CHA/P/2620/20 Duncan Grant, figure study, pencil and charcoal on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust


Grant’s early and later designs for these murals, conveys, in Reed’s words, ‘…[a] sensual vision’ on Grant’s part, one which ‘re-imagine[s]…a domestic environment to express [a] new way…of life [through]…sexual identity.’Reed saw Grant’s decoration of Keynes’ living space as ‘sett[ing] a modern stage for a new way of life’ for Keynes, ‘the life of a young economist [at Cambridge] who was Grant’s friend and lover.’

The expression of radical ideas through creative practises was the drive behind the Bloomsbury domestic aesthetic that led to Charleston. The interiors decorated by Bell and Grant are as much a demonstration of their artistic practises as their works on canvas. Through our work with the collection, we are gaining a rich insight into the cultural heritage at Charleston.

The objects and their surroundings provide tangible evidence of a past way of life and work. This quotidian sketchbook of Duncan Grant’s is one of many, just like all of the sketchbooks Grant tucked away in the nooks and crannies in corners of the rooms at Charleston. Today is it this particular sketchbook, filled with rough studies for the mural on Keynes’ sitting room wall, that reveals traces of the early Bloomsbury domestic aesthetic.


CHA/P/2620/2 Duncan Grant, figure study, pencil and charcoal on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust






Duncan Grant and El Greco


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.



Spain Fights On

The Spanish Civil War was seen by many as a call to arms against fascism. As Julian Bell saw it, “non-resistance means suffering the full power of fascism. And fascism means, not only violence, but slavery”. Thus he wrote in his letter to E. M. Forster detailing his conversion from pacifist to passionate volunteer. He had been teaching English in China when he resolved to join the fight in Spain. This decision resulted in his tragic death in July 1937, after only weeks of volunteering as an ambulance driver, devastating his mother Vanessa Bell back at Charleston.

This context gives a poignant background to a recent find in the attic. We have unearthed various poster designs in aid of the Spanish Civil War asking for donations to the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief. The National Joint Committee was established by six British Members of Parliament after their visits to Spain in November 1936 and was set up to provide “purely humanitarian and non sectarian” aid. The poster designs we have found emphasise the suffering of 50,000 Spanish children and depict families stranded at harbours, crying babies and small frightened children clinging to their mothers’ skirts. The figures are dark and downcast. And the recurring image of the ship seen below suggests the help the British public can send across the channel to these innocent civilians.


CHA/P/2258 Recto. Duncan Grant, design for poster, Spanish Civil War. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Earlier in the year of Julian’s death, in May 1937, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Quentin Bell visited Paris. Whilst they were there they saw Pablo Picasso who was working on his painting Guernica in his hotel rooms, based on the bombing of the eponymous Basque town the previous month. Quentin Bell had recently asked Picasso to attend an event at the Albert Hall in aid of raising funds for the children of Bilbao and Guernica would also be shown in 1938 at an exhibition arranged by the National Joint Committee to raise funds at the New Burlington Galleries. The poster designs we have found in the attic are part of this wider artistic and cultural cause inspiring humanitarian involvement in Spain at the time. However, as staunch pacifists, Julian and Quentin Bell’s parents Clive and Vanessa Bell and other Charlestonians such as Duncan Grant, who had been a conscientious objector in the First World War, were not so invested in the fighting itself. At the time they visited Picasso in his studio, Julian Bell had recently told his mother of his intention to fight in Spain. This must have coloured her response to the painting’s distorted figures and dismembered limbs clinging to broken weapons in the darkness. Picasso’s tortured figures express the tragedy and horror of the war that her son was intent on joining.

Meanwhile, back at Charleston, David Garnett tried to persuade Julian Bell to stay and fight fascism from home, helping to prepare for war against Hitler. Although Julian Bell was unchanging in his conviction he did make a compromise, deciding to travel to Spain as an ambulance driver instead of as his new-found ideal – expressed in his 1937 talk to the Cambridge Apostles – as a solider.

When he arrived in Spain he longed for action and on the 6 July 1937 was thrown into the thick of battle taking the wounded from the front at Brunete. During this time he wrote his last letter to his mother in which he revealed how Charleston was not far from his mind. He wrote of how he kept his ambulance, of the other men, and then about “the other odd element […] the Charleston one of improvising materials – a bit of carpet to mend a stretcher, e.g. – in which I find myself at home”. These words, “at home”, are especially moving here as he was never to return home again. On the 18 July his ambulance was hit and he was mortally wounded with a piece of shrapnel to the chest. He was one of the 35,000 men who lost their lives in the battle of Brunete.


CHA/P/2291 Recto. Duncan Grant, design for poster, Spanish Civil War. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

One design that we have found, in which the brutality of the war is personified in the traditional Spanish symbol of the Bull, depicts the horrors of war that Julian Bell would have finally seen on his last few days in the thick of the action on the Brunete front. This design differs to the others we have found in the attic, taking this symbol of Spanish nationality and transforming it into a threat to its own people. It brings the fighting itself into the frame. Here women and children recoil helplessly from the scene of a man being thrown by the bull.

It seems that this design was discarded in favour of a version where the women and children are mourning at a distance from the fighting. We have found various and more detailed studies in different media for this design. One sketch is executed in red pencil with a smaller painted study to show colours for the design as a whole on the same page. Here Duncan Grant is working with the harbour-side theme showing a family vulnerable beneath a fighter plane. There is also a smaller study of the design used in the further two studies, the central seated maternal figure reminiscent of Madonna and child.


CHA/P/2354 Recto. Duncan Grant, design for poster, Spanish Civil War. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

There are two further designs made in cooler blues and browns. In this change there is a move towards a more melancholy mood. Perhaps this reflected the mood at Charleston where Vanessa Bell was inconsolable with grief at Julian Bell’s death. At the time Clive Bell remarked “I doubt whether the hole in Vanessa’s life will be filled up ever”. Vanessa Bell’s children were central to her life, Francis Spalding noting how Julian’s birth “revolutionised her life, bringing out strong instincts which until then had laid dormant”. Indeed, in the maternal figure on the poster design below we can see Vanessa Bell as a young woman holding her first baby who was now lost to the war. The posters make a plea for the children of Spain and long for a different ending.


CHA/P/2303 Recto. Duncan Grant, design for poster, Spanish Civil War. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Grant, Hughes and Hogg: A Vision of History


Every once in a while we find an item in the attic that is as perplexing as it is interesting and requires some serious investigation to decode its meaning. Such an item came to our attention this week; a charming sketch of a man in historical costume with two names in the hand of Duncan Grant inscribed on the back; those of Talbot Hughes and John Hogg.

dress designback page

(top) CHA/P/1783-R, Duncan Grant, drawing, study from Talbot Hughes’ ‘‘Dress design: an account of costumes for artists and dressmakers, illustrated by the author from old examples, pencil on paper, 33.2 cm x 26 cm. Photograph © The Charleston Trust (bottom) CHA/P/1783-V, Duncan Grant, drawing, study from Talbot Hughes’ ‘Dress design: an account of costumes for artists and dressmakers, illustrated by the author from old examples, pencil on paper, 33.2 cm x 26 cm. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

The name Talbot Hughes is familiar, practising as a genre artist exhibiting at the Royal Academy and the Society of British Artists he also amassed a large collection of English historical costumes and accessories, dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries. An admirer of the French classicist painter Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, Hughes was meticulous in his attention to detail and his extensive costume collection allowed him to style his models for his artworks accurately. The 752 piece collection of garments and accessories were sold to Harrods in 1913 for the sum of £2,500 and were displayed at the store for three weeks before they were sent to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where they went on display on Christmas eve 1913.

In comparison to the wealth of information about the life, art and collections of Talbot Hughes, details about John Hogg proved to be more elusive and the connection between the two hard to fathom. It was when research revealed that Hogg had been a publisher working in London in the early twentieth century, publishing titles such as ‘Silverwork and Jewellery: a textbook for students and workers in metal’ that things began to fall into place.

In the year that Hughes sold his collection to Harrods he also collaborated with Hogg in the production of a book titled ‘Dress design: an account of costumes for artists and dressmakers, illustrated by the author from old examples.’ The contents of the book demonstrate the wealth of Hughes’ knowledge on the subject and the varied nature of his collection with chapters ranging from ‘prehistoric dress’ to ‘the character of decoration and trimmings of the eighteenth century.’ Adorning the pages of the 1913 edition are illustrations of costumes throughout the ages by Hughes, demonstrating the attention to detail he is known for in his paintings. Grant’s drawing that we found nestled in the boxes from the Angelica Garnett Gift appears to be a study from this book, his handwritten notes on the back providing helpful clues to the images origin.

 fig 79fig 91.7

fig 81

(top) Fig. 79, Talbot Hughes, Dress design: an account of costumes for artists and dressmakers, illustrated by the author from old examples, Published by John Hogg, London 1913. Photograph © (middle) Fig. 91.7, Talbot Hughes, Dress design: an account of costumes for artists and dressmakers, illustrated by the author from old examples, Published by John Hogg, London 1913. Photograph © Fig. 81, Talbot Hughes, Dress design: an account of costumes for artists and dressmakers, illustrated by the author from old examples, Published by John Hogg, London 1913. Photograph ©

Previous blog posts such as ‘Ballet and the Bloomsbury Group’ have explored Duncan Grant’s artistic relationship with costume design and the theatre. Grant’s practice of studying artworks for his own artistic development and for inspiration has also been explored in relation to the Angelica Garnett Gift with a blog post about the studies of Raphael. Why Grant chose this particular costume to sketch we can only speculate, it may be that there are many other costume studies yet to be found in the Gift. We know that Grant was commissioned in 1914 to produce costumes for Jacques Copeau’s adaptation of Twelfth Night by Theodore Lascaris, a creative collaboration between the two men that was to continue until the outbreak of war in 1918. Designing the costumes for the production Grant desired to sustain the mood of comedy and as a result ignored details such as hats and swords, neglecting historical reality in favour of shape and fluidity, something Hughes no doubt would look upon negatively. Earlier in our exploration of the Gift we uncovered possible sketched designs for a production of Macbeth by Granville Barker in 1912, a project which was later abandoned in 1913. Could the study of historical costume found this week in the attic be connected to either of these Shakespeare productions or does it represent Grant’s artistic diversity and self-imposed life long education as an artist? Whatever the sketch’s original purpose, today it represents a fascinating insight into Grant’s artistic practice, as well as being a beautiful and interesting drawing.


‘The firm of Bell and Grant’ and the Famous Women Dinner Service

‘Though I usually despise any work of art to which the word Bloomsbury is attached, I was delighted by a deliriously camp set of ceramic dinner plates by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant with the imaginary portraits of famous women.’

                        Richard Dormant Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation, review: ‘makes Clark fallible but more likeable’ 19th May 2014

In 2014 Tate Britain held the exhibition ‘Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilization’. This was the first show devoted to Clark, one of the most influential figures in the British art world during the last century. Clark fulfilled many roles during his professional life; that of scholar, educator, collector, patron, writer, administrator and broadcaster, and in all he stayed loyal to his central belief in the importance of art for human life.  At the heart of this exhibition is an examination of the support Clark gave for modern British artists, as during the 1930’s and 1940’s he was one of the most active collectors of contemporary British art.


(top) CHA/P/1645, Duncan Grant, drawing, design for the Famous Ladies dinner service commissioned by Kenneth Clark 1932, pencil and ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust (bottom) CHA/P/1646, Duncan Grant, drawing, design for the Famous Ladies dinner service commissioned by Kenneth Clark 1932, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

In the Attic Studio at Charleston, we have recently identified a series of interesting sketches by Duncan Grant that form the basis of a commission for Clark. The ‘Famous Women Dinner Service’ is a collection of forty-eight plates that Grant and Vanessa Bell designed as part of a one-hundred and forty piece set. It is one of the largest commissioned works produced by the Bloomsbury artists and sketches for a number of plates and of different ‘Famous Women’ have been found as part of our on-going exploration of the Angelica Garnett Gift.


CHA/P/1709, Duncan Grant, drawing, design for the Famous Ladies dinner service commissioned by Kenneth Clark 1932, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Clark was a loyal and influential supporter of the artists and in 1933, shortly after his appointment as Director of the National Gallery, he commissioned the dinner service. Writing his autobiography, Clark would later state that the commission was an attempt to ‘revive’ Grant’s interest in the decorative arts. Writing about his visits to Grant’s studio, Clark described how:

‘it contained groups of rusting pottery, gathering dust, and vases of mimosa which had long since lost all the colour of life. On these unappetizing themes Duncan and Vanessa concentrated their talents… in an attempt to revive his interest in decorative art we asked him and Vanessa to paint us a dinner service.’

Kenneth Clark Another Part of the Wood, 1974 pp.247-8

Clark had already purchased and commissioned various works by Grant; two pastel studies from an exhibition in June 1933, a 1932 Wedgewood cream-wear jug incorporating images of Clark and his wife Jane, and a portrait of Jane that, while taking several years to produce, nevertheless sealed the friendship between the two men.

There was no brief for the commission and Clark left the artists free to decorate the service however they saw fit. The person perhaps most excited about the venture was W.W Winkworth, an occasional painter, collector and great expert of Far Eastern ceramics, known to his friends as Billy. He corresponded with Bell about the upcoming designs:

‘I have just seen the Clarks, and of course, being a great enthusiast not only about your work and that of Mr Grants, but about dinner-sets, I was much moved to think what an addition to ceramic achievement might be made if you designed one…designing original pottery is of course an activity in which some of the greatest artists have interested themselves; your own work and Mr Grant is well known to everybody in this connection.’

W.W Winkworth to Vanessa Bell 3rd March 1932

‘Billy’ envisaged Grant and Bell reviving the ‘hausmaler’s’ art (the term used to describe painters of faience, porcelain and glass who bought blank pieces from factories to decorate at home or in their workshops) and he introduced them to Mr. Wreford, an agent at the Wedgwood showrooms at 24 Hatton Gardens. At the showrooms Grant and Bell were shown the various blank services that were available for their decoration. Shunning the modern styles, the pair selected a more traditional design, similar to the 19th century moulds that were used at the Aubagne pottery which was founded in 1837 in Provence.

Having selected the style of plate Grant and Bell went to stay with Josiah Wedgwood and his wife, taking tours around the works and painting experimental designs on white plates. It is the initial designs for the dinner service that we have found in the Gift. These preliminary designs were carried out on round scraps of paper and card and depict portraits of women throughout the ages in pencil and ink. The artists had settled on the theme of ‘Famous Women’ for the commission and produced decorative images of twelve queens, twelve famous beauties, twelve writers and twelve actresses, in addition to a set of period women and two portraits of the artists themselves. Virginia Woolf was also included in the set, alongside ‘Miss 1933’ which caused Bell to remark that ‘it ought to please the feminists’.



 (top) CHA/C/136a, Duncan Grant, plate, Mme la Marquise de Caux (Adelina Patti) one of a set of four plates from the Famous Ladies set commissioned by Kenneth Clark, ceramic. Photograph © The Charleston Trust (bottom) CHA/C/136b, Duncan Grant, plate, one of a set of four plates from the Famous Ladies set commissioned by Kenneth Clark, ceramic. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

We have four tests for the plates in our collection at Charleston which were loaned to Tate for the 2014 exhibition. They show images of Madame Adelina Patti (a highly acclaimed 19th century opera singer), Queen Mary, Princess Mathilda and an unidentified woman. The women we have found on the preliminary sketches are also unidentified, yet they are a great example of Grant and Bell’s design process for a commission that took over a year to complete. Other sketches for the ‘Famous Women’ series are currently in private collections, such as those depicting Virginia Woolf and Greta Garbo. The design for Queen Christina of Sweden currently resides in the Victoria and Albert museum in London.

The whereabouts of the original forty-eight plates and other items that made up the one-hundred and forty strong dinner service are unclear. We know that they remained a part of Clark’s household until his move to Saltwood Castle in 1956, having already survived the Blitz and numerous changes of address. We also know that following the death of Jane, and the marriage of Clark to the French heiress Nolwen de Janze Rice, the dinner service along with many other works in his vast collection were moved to homes in Normandy and London. After that we can only speculate to the ownership and location of the dinner service, as it has been suggested that they were last seen at an auction in Hamberg in around 2000.


 (top) CHA/P/1704, Duncan Grant, drawing, design for the Famous Ladies dinner service commissioned by Kenneth Clark 1932, coloured pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust (bottom) CHA/P/1703, Duncan Grant, drawing, design for the Famous Ladies dinner service commissioned by Kenneth Clark 1932, coloured pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Though the ‘Famous Women’ are unique in their design, Grant and Bell were involved throughout their careers in the production of china for the mass market, for example their collaboration with Foley China and the 1934 exhibition ‘Modern Art for the Table’ at Harrods. The preparatory sketches for this commission found in the Gift are wonderful examples of the relationship between patron and artist, in addition to the personal and professional partnership referred to by Virginia Woolf as ‘the firm of Bell and Grant.’


The ‘aesthetic thrill’ of Raphael

During museum week the Charleston Attic discussed the influence that Old Master paintings had upon Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, extending their knowledge of art history and providing inspiration for their own creative endeavours. Over the past few weeks the Angelica Garnett Gift has offered us further examples of this, with three exquisite studies after Raphael by Grant.

CHA-P-1299-R_CCHA-P-1300-R_CCHA-P-1306-R_C(top) CHA/P/1299. Duncan Grant, drawing, sketch after Raphael, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust (middle) CHA/P/1300. Duncan Grant, drawing, sketch after Raphael, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust (bottom) CHA/P/1306. Duncan Grant, drawing, sketch after Raphael, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

We know that Grant was an artist who explored many different means of expression from his work with the theatre to decorative schemes yet his portraits of friends and family are perhaps the most revealing. These studies of Raphael’s portraits demonstrates Grant’s sensitive handling of a subject which he employed in his own works. They also show us Grant’s appreciation and understanding of the importance of light, shadow and space, his Study for Composition (Self-Portrait in a Turban) of 1910 and 1916 Portrait of Vanessa Bell being excellent examples of his use of negative space.

db4b90f352265021d952cfdfb7377991Study for Composition (Self-portrait in a Turban), Duncan Grant, 1910. Photograph  © WordPress

Correspondence, personal diaries and recollections from friends of the Bloomsbury group have shown us that Grant and Bell travelled frequently, to experience new landscapes, lifestyles and study works by other artists. A letter from Grant to Bell tells us of his experience seeing the Sistine Madonna by Raphael for the first time;

 ‘I have seen the Sistine Madonna. I couldn’t help thinking it might be one of the greatest aesthetic thrills as I dashed round the gallery – really rather nervous of finding it… I must say I was very much impressed – tho a good deal I suspect at first was the extraordinary prestige the picture has. But I sat and looked at it for some time and I thought it extraordinarily fine and so much more perfect than I had ever expected but it really was very thrilling – I had never known quite what to make of it before.’

                       Duncan Grant to Vanessa Bell 22nd June 1924

This letter, which is quoted in Simon Watney’s book ‘The Art of Duncan Grant,’ is thought to be the most detailed surviving account of, and response to a single work of art by the artist. The influence of Old Master paintings can be seen to play an important role in Grant’s approach to his art throughout his career. In addition to his careful consideration of forms and handling of colour and light, various motifs from works such as Raphael’s repeatedly appear in paintings, sketches and prints. The hanged curtains that we see adorning the upper corners of the Sistine Madonna are a frequent feature in Grant’s work, for example the painting Venus and Adonis which is now part of the Tate’s collections and a painted panel for the Lefevre Gallery, at Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries.

Venus and Adonis, Duncan Grant, 1919. Photograph  ©  BBC Paintings

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