The Charleston Attic

Category: painting

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duncan Grant and Henri Matisse

In August, the curatorial team began cataloguing the larger works on paper and canvas of the Angelica Garnett Gift. The discovery of a dynamic pencil drawing depicting four frantically moving figures encircling a fifth immediately bring Matisse’s famous work Dance to mind.

The rough sketch is undated and unsigned, and like so many of the quick ephemeral drawings by Grant in the Gift, it is in perfect condition. Was this sketch a design for a larger, more detailed work on canvas, perhaps? Had Grant directly been inspired by Matisse’s Dance?

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CHA/P/3004 Recto. Artist Unknown (Likely to be by Duncan Grant), study of moving figures in a circle, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

 

We have found several items in the archives that indicate an interest on the part of Bloomsbury in Matisse and his career. There are two records of Matisse exhibitions; one, a card for ‘The Exhibition of Contemporary French Painting’ (undated), and the other, a poster advertising a show at the Musee Matisse in 1955. We also found a commercial print of the work ‘Nu Bleu’, bought by Duncan Grant in 1968 after visiting the ‘Matisse 1869-1954’ Retrospective Exhibition at the Hayward Gallery by the Arts Council.

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CHA/E/222 Recto. Exhibition advertisement card, for Henri Matisse exhibition, date and place of exhibition unknown. Card © The Estate of Duncan Grant. . Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

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CHA/P/83 Recto. Print,  of Henri Matisse’s work ‘Nu Bleu’, purchased by Duncan Grant in 1968. Print © The Estate of Duncan Grant. . Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

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CHA/P/317  Recto. Poster, for Henri Matisse exhibition in Nice, France, in 1955. Poster © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Nasturtiums, or Nasturtiums with the Painting ‘Dance’ I, as it was later named, features a memorable motif from the most well-known early modernist work by Matisse, ‘Dance’. In both works, the nude figures depicted form a circle, linked by their hands’ their bodies bowed in the joyful movement of dance. The scene is a celebratory one: the figures have shed their clothes with gay abandon, and are embracing all that is natural within and around themselves.

‘Here was a possible path,’ wrote Vanessa Bell of the first Post-Impressionist exhibition in 1910 in which Matisse’s work featured. ‘A sudden liberation and encouragement to feel for oneself, which were absolutely overwhelming.’[1] The desire to paint, then, matches the desire of Matisse’s nude figures to dance.

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Duncan Grant, ‘Dancers’, 1910, oil paint on canvas. Photograph © Tate.

Looking at Duncan Grant’s 1910 work Dancers , one can see straight away how Grant had been inspired by the bright colours, and the bold and dynamic figures caught in flowing movement that Matisse depicted in his Dance series. ‘It is as if Duncan had suddenly learnt to diminish the emphasis on materiality, on textures, light and shade, in order to allow for a more vibrant use of line, interval, structure and movement,’ writes Frances Spalding of Grant’s work. ‘Matisse helped liberate him from the tyranny of appearances.’

[1]Frances Spalding, Vanessa Bell, p.101

 

PS. It may be of interest to regular readers that we will shortly be bidding a sad farewell to the Charleston Attic. What a rewarding 6 months working as Curatorial Interns it has been- from the fascinating discoveries we have made to the in-depth research carried out, not forgetting our involvement with the Festival.

We would like to welcome our new Intern, Dr. Anne Stutchbury, to the Attic, and wish her the best of luck with her work.

A big thank you to our followers- your readership has been greatly appreciated! Keep following The Charleston Attic Blog for new and exciting archival discoveries and research insights…

 

Philippa Bougeard and Emily Hill

Angelica in the Studio

This week’s discovery of a child’s drawing in the Gift can be seen to reveal more about the children of Bloomsbury and their involvement in the creative practises of the household.

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CHA/P/2806. Recto, Child‘s drawing of female figure wearing a dress and hat, found in the Gift, artist unknown. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

For the generations of children growing up at Charleston, creativity had no bounds. Virginia Nicholson (née Bell), who spent every summer there with her parents, grandparents and Duncan Grant recalls:

 ‘My brother and sister [Julian and Cressida] and I grew up, as did [my father] Quentin and his siblings, with the conviction that Art was something everyone could do. Paint, clay, mud, glue and matches, were all endlessly available. Yet did the inhabitants of Charleston ever really grow up? Charleston ever really grow up? There is a wonderfully uninhibited, irreverent quality to the decoration of the house which is that of a child let loose to experiment and which is extraordinary liberating.’[1] (Bell and Nicholson, 1997, p.6)

Pinned to the Studio mantelpiece are drawings  by the five-year old Virginia that plainly shows her family’s encouragement of her creative imagination. In one, three figures, painstakingly drawn, with extraordinarily audible  expressions, are seated in identical chairs, wearing enormous hats of varying proportions! In another, titled ‘GOING HUNTING’ (labelled in large bold letters at the bottom of the rural landscape suggestive of Charleston’s surrounding countryside), a knight in chainmail  sits astride a horse, it’s  front legs accurately drawn raised in a galloping motion.

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CHA/E/149. Recto, Child‘s drawing, circa 1960,  by Virginia Bell, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

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CHA/E/150. Recto, Child‘s drawing , circa 1960, by Virginia Bell, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

 At Charleston, Virginia and her brother, sister and cousins had plenty to stimulate them, with the eclectic range of sights, smells and sounds of Charleston to take in. Virginia recalls her:

  ‘…memories of adventures around the pond, of being painted by Vanessa and Duncan in the studio, of the lovely smell of new cake, books and turpentine that pervaded the house, of crocks of wet clay in the pottery, of dahlias in the garden and sweet lavender drying in the spare rooms.’ (Nicholson, 1997, p.6)

During those first early years at Charleston, its inhabitants found it a challenging and inhospitable place to live; not largely because of the shortage of food and greater isolation out in the country as a result of the War. For Vanessa Bell, who manned the household, the most challenging aspect of this life was juggling practical responsibilities with her painting. To Roger Fry, a close confidant, in April 1917 she wrote: ‘You don’t know how desperate I sometimes get about everything, painting, bringing up the children properly etc.’ In response to this, Fry sent her back a positive reply in his letter, praising her for her, ‘…marvellous practical power [which] has of course really a quality of great imagination in it, because your efficiency comes without fuss. No I don’t think you need ever doubt yourself. You have genius in your life as well as in your art and both are rare things.’

Roger Fry took an interest in Vanessa Bell’s children and how they were brought up. His comment of their mother’s ‘great imagination’, made to her in reassurance of her anxieties expressed to him that she could not both paint and bring up her children well at Charleston, are revealing of his beliefs about the educational philosophy of children in relation to creativity. In 1917, Fry wrote an article for the Burlington Magazine; ‘Children’s Drawings’, highlighting his main belief that, ‘…teaching [of art, to children] destroy[s] completely the[ir] peculiar gifts of representation and design, replacing them with feeble imitations of some contemporary convention.’

Since their move to Charleston in 1916, Vanessa Bell had been worrying about her children’s formal education: should she send Julian and Quentin away to school when they were still young, or would the traditional public school system be constraining to their development? She concluded that she would set up a small school at Charleston and they were initially taught there by a governess. Their mother taught them French and Music, though, interestingly, there is no record of her ever teaching them her own trade. Angelica Garnett also remembered this absence of art lessons at home: in Gordon Square, she was given ‘one painting lesson…[by] Vanessa…the only one [she] ever gave me,’ Perhaps then Bell did share Fry’s view that ‘art cannot…be taught at all [as]…art is a purely subjective affair…everyone is an artist…[and]…children [should be] stimulated to create instead of being inhibited by instruction [as] no modern adult can retain the freshness of vision, the surprise and shock, the intimacy and sharpness of notion…’ like that of a child can.

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CHA/P/2281. Recto, Child’s drawing, sketches of fairies,  ’37 Gordon Square’, by Angelica Bell,  ink on letter writing paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

 

Judging by the liberal way in which her children were allowed to explore and play, there is no doubt that Bell  gave them free rein to be as creative as they wished. ‘After all,’ Virginia Nicholson wrote ‘Charleston was a place where, for both children and adults, messy creativity was a way of life.’

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CHA/P/2263. Recto, Child‘s drawing of male portrait figure wearing yellow military style jacket with medals and sash, titled, ‘his majesty of crimtartary’, artist unknown, found in the Gift. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

 

Whilst creative practises were all-encompassing at Charleston, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant took their individual work as artists extremely seriously. In 1925, a tailor-made studio was constructed for them at Charleston which suited all of their requirements as painters: it needed to have a good natural light, be quiet and therefore removed from the house and garden. The result was, as Vanessa described it shortly afterwards: ‘…the perfect place to work.’

Of the Studio at Charleston, Angelica Garnett wrote; ‘It was the sanctuary in which I spent the most treasured hours of my life…I was both protected and stimulated, without a shadow of responsibility…sitting on the studio floor engrossed in some manual occupation while those patient elders concentrated in their own dreamlike fashion on their art.’

Bell and Grant’s studio, Angelica saw as ‘the citadel of the house’, and as the child of artists, she grew up with a sense of the reverence and devotion her parents gave to the practise of painting, observing them close at hand. Her touchingly innocent observations of what she saw here of the artistic ‘hard work and concentration’, preciously taken to create ‘the most important things’ are vividly described in curious detail, reflective of that of a painters’ eye:

 ‘Easels and paint boxes stood about, brushes, sometimes festooned with cobweb, emerged from jugs or jam jars, palettes and tubes of paint lay on stools and tables, while there was often a bunch of red-hot pokers and dahlias arranged in front of a piece of drapery. The gun-powder-coloured walls were hung with canvases of many shapes and sizes, and some of Duncan’s favourite objects, such as jointed- or rather disjointed- Sicilian wooden horse, a silver table-watch…a fan and perhaps a child’s drawing, could be seen balanced on the mantelpiece or pinned to a spare piece of wall.’ [2] (Garnett, 1984, p.93)

For Roger Fry, ‘This habit of attributing strong emotional values to all the objects surrounding them is what makes the visual life of children so much more vivid and intense than the visual life of almost all grown-up people.’ When Angelica was allowed in the Studio with Bell and Grant, she was under strict instructions not to disturb them whilst they were at work, and there was an unspoken expectation that ‘I should behave like a grown-up.’ However ; ‘I absorbed much of the atmosphere that I afterwards valued.’. Angelica Garnett later went on to be an artist in her own right, attributing these early experiences to her development.

Angelica’s tenacious relationship with her parents as well as their own, intimate relationship (then unbeknown to her), did cause her to struggle with a ‘consuming desire to identify with them.’ The time she spent with them in the studio was therefore treasured. Years after she put pen to paper and wrote about her childhood memories in an attempt to understand her relationship with them better, she looked back on this exercise and asked: ‘What picture had I drawn [of them] and how true was it?’ It is evident that, as an artist, she had looked at things in the same way as her parents had.

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Angelica Vanessa Garnett (née Bell), in her parents’ studio at Charleston, 1979, by Jane Brown. Photograph  © National Portrait Gallery.

 

Was it largely because they were Bloomsbury artists? In her book Deceived With Kindness (1984), Garnett talks about her parents’ ‘detachment’ from their true emotions, citing their ‘lack of physical warmth’ towards her when she was a child as due to the fact that they had kept the truth of her parentage from her. As ‘Bloomsbury, [they] believed and largely practised intellectual tolerance, but often failed to recognize the power of the emotions or the reasoning of the heart.’ Vanessa Bell, mother and artist, had ‘invented the vibrant colours and shapes that [had] surrounded [her children]’, encouraging their free play and creativity, but complex innermost feelings caused her to retreat, and always to her sanctuary, the studio.

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Vanessa Bell painting in her studio at Charleston, 1936. Photograph © Tate Archives

The child’s presence in Bell and Grant’s studio has been evident since Angelica Garnett was small. Drawings that their children had made were pinned to the mantelpiece, and that of their grandchildren’s, some thirty years later. Whilst this childish work (below) is not revealing of any emerging Bloomsbury style of aesthetic, it is a sweet reminder of the sharp inquisitiveness of the Charleston children, busy at work with crayons on tables and floors; creatively inspired, and of how they were always encouraged by their elders.

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The Studio at Charleston. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

[1] Bell, Q. and Nicholson, B. (1997) Charleston: a Bloomsbury house and garden: Frances Lincoln Limited, London.

[2] Garnett, A. (1995) Deceived With Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood. Pimlico, London.

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

 

 

A Bloomsbury Centenarian: On Anne Olivier Bell’s 100th Birthday

This week, Charleston celebrates a very special birthday – the 100th birthday of Anne Olivier Bell (née Popham) – Charleston’s President, and a prominent editor . In her 98th year, Mrs Bell received an MBE in honour of her longstanding services to art and literature, and looking back at her remarkable career, it is not difficult to see why.

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Anne Olivier Bell, pictured on her centenary birthday party at her Sussex home; Sunday 19th June 2016. Photograph, © The Charleston Trust 

 

Anne Olivier Popham trained as an art historian at the Courtauld Institute in the 1930s. The family had an artistic background; her father, Arthur Ewart Popham, was Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. .

During the second world war, all women were expected to do work of national importance, and Anne Popham was no exception. She was employed by the Ministry of Information as a research assistant in the Photographs and Public Divisions. . In 1945, after the war had ended, she was recruited to join the so-called ‘Monuments Men’, a group of men and women from thirteen different nations who formed the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives branch of the German Control Commission:

‘Many were museum directors, curators, art historians, architects and educators. Together they worked together to protect monuments and other cultural treasures from the destruction of World War II. In the last year of the War, they tracked, located, and in the years that followed returned more than five million artistic and cultural items stolen by Hitler and the Nazis. Their role in preserving cultural treasures was without precedent.’

[Robert Edsel, Founder and Chairman of the Board for the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art]

In November that year, Miss Popham was posted to the MFAA Branch of the Control Commission based in Bünde, Westphalia in the British zone, where she co-ordinated the Branch Officers’ work. Her diaries from this two-year period, now preserved in the Imperial War Museum, chart the purposeful pace in which she and her colleagues carried out this stressful work.. As she recalls: ‘There was always a great deal of tension between the needs of the Military and the requirements of the Monuments Officers, especially in the invasion of France…’

In 1947 Popham returned to London, where she worked in the Exhibitions Department of the Arts Council of Great Britain (formed after the Second World War by John Maynard Keynes, who was appointed the first official Chair). Here, her proven flair for scholarship proved useful in her editing of exhibition catalogues.

It was not long afterwards that Olivier met Quentin, the son of the renowned art critic Clive Bell, , and Vanessa Bell, one half of the Bloomsbury painterly duo, who invited her to Charleston to sit for a portrait.

Quentin Bell was a painter and ceramicist who would later become Professor of Art History at Leeds University, and Professor of History and Theory of Art at Sussex University. In the 1960s Anne Olivier Bell worked with her husband on the first authorised biography of Virginia Woolf, published in 1972. This was followed by the publication of Woolf’s five-volume 1915-19 diaries, which she edited over the years between 1977 – 1984. These diaries, in their published form, have become a primary resource for the study and appreciation of Woolf and Bloomsbury.In recognition of this work Olivier Bell has received honorary doctorates from Sussex and York universities.

 

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CHA/E/41 Recto. Poster, a 1978 poster of Virginia Woolf advertising the publication of Volume 2 of her letters by the Hogarth Press, edited by Anne Oliver Bell. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

 

Anne Popham’s only encounter with Virginia Woolf was fleeting; she recalls noticing ‘this beautiful lady in a red silk dress’ at a Bloomsbury party. Vanessa Bell’s painting, ‘The Garden Room at Charleston’, captures perfectly the atmosphere of Anne Olivier Popham’s early visits to Charleston. The French windows are open to the garden, bright and lush, and one can sense the warmth of the afternoon. Miss Popham is the figure depicted sitting in a chair, turned towards the garden. In picturing this summery scene, it is easy to imagine the draw of the idyllic countryside to a London girl. Although she remembers feeling slightly daunted by the witty intellectuals with their interesting talk, she formed a good relationship with the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Quentin Bell was also charmed by her, and asked her if he could model her head in clay. They were married in 1952.

 

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CHA/P/1567 Recto. Vanessa Bell, The Garden Room at Charleston, painting. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

 

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CHA/SC/22 Recto. Quentin Bell, Bust, ‘Head of Olivier Bell’, terracotta. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

 

In 1953, Vanessa Bell painted Anne Olivier Bell’s portrait again. The new Mrs Bell holds herself upright, her gaze directed thoughtfully into the distance. She is smartly dressed and looks dignified, and the same can be said about the recent photograph of her, taken 63 years later in the garden of her Sussex home at her centenary birthday party. Some things are timeless.

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CHA/P/1567 Recto. Vanessa Bell, Portrait of Olivier Bell, ‘Olivier Bell’, circa 1953, painting. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

 

On Duncan Grant’s Male Nudes

 

In 1910, at the age of twenty-five, Duncan Grant’s career began to take off. His work was beginning to be recognized, having been shown more widely, and the period of 1908-11 is viewed as being one of rapid productivity for Grant as an artist. ‘He was always very productive,’ Douglas Blair Turnbaugh wrote, ‘[Though] at this time…in his early twenties, his creative genius was beginning to be recognized, and he was considered a leading contributor to the Post-Impressionist movement in England…he had [already] a thorough understanding of French and Italian schools of the past, and highly developed technical skills.’

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Duncan Grant, from various photographs taken by the artist in preparation for his studies, George Leigh Mallory, 1912, 46 Gordon Sqaure, Photographs © Estate of Duncan Grant

 

Richard Shone cites ‘[Grant’s] early portraits of his friends and… relations [as] encapsulate[ing] the sound technical accomplishment [that]he had achieved by his early twenties.’ In 1908, after returning from Paris where he had studied classical painting in the Louvre, Grant was residing at 21 Fitzroy Square in London. It was here that he seriously began painting portraits. As Blair Turnbaugh observed; ‘He took a studio near Belsize Park Gardens and began a series of brilliant portraits of everybody within his reach, including…new friends, and many relatives ….’ In his studio on the first floor, Grant invited friends and family to pose for his painting and drawings to save the expense of hiring professional models. He liked to photograph his models, and ‘These photographs were references for some of Duncan’s erotic drawings and paintings’, as erotic photography was back then illegal and utmost discretion was essential.

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Duncan Grant, preparatory photographs, Vanessa Bell and Molly MacCarthy, 1913, taken in the artists’ studio at 46 Gordon Square, Photographs © Estate of Duncan Grant

 

Grant also posed naked himself for photographs to be taken in his studio. Between 1909 and 1911, he produced of succession ‘youthful’ self-portraits that, in characteristic face-on, close-up style, were ‘intimate and direct’, as identified by Shone. In choosing to portray himself unabashedly, his apparent ease could be seen as a reflection of the intense pleasure he was experiencing in his personal life.

 

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Duncan Grant, Study For Composition (Self-Portrait In Turban) (1910), oil paint on canvas. Photograph © National Gallery

 

Grant and John Maynard Keynes were lovers during the early years of Grant’s initial critical acclaim, and they remained so until about 1910. Happily, this relatively brief romantic period of theirs did not deter their friendship, which prevailed until Keynes’ death. Grant’s biographer Frances Spalding thought it telling of Grant and Keynes’ relationship that, ‘…when he reminisced about th[eir] affair, Duncan gave his close friend Paul Roche the impression that Keynes ‘was closer than anyone except perhaps Vanessa [Bell], and even closer than her in some respects…in the uncluttered recognition one male can have for another.’

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Duncan Grant, Portrait of John Maynard Keynes (1917-18), oil paint on canvas. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

 

Indeed; ‘The significance of Maynard for Duncan went very deep and in old age…Before the end of [that] June [of 1914] he had fallen in love with Maynard and experienced an immediacy of rapport greater than he had ever known.’ This relationship would no doubt have heightened Grant’s sense of creativity s as he became more confident with his sexuality. As Spalding put it, ‘Maynard…liberated Duncan through his own attraction to the genuine and that which was without pretence.’ It helped greatly that Keynes himself had been in a liberal environment when he was a student, ‘[at] Kings College Cambridge [where] homosexuality ha[d] become…rampant.’ in the early 1900s.

Years later, when Roche sat as a model for Grant, Roche observed how he worked, and saw that in his style, Grant had what he saw as a ‘determination not to please [aesthetically] except by telling the truth, and telling the truth through the intransigent beauty of paint,’ Perhaps an element of the openness that Keynes had shared with Grant had found itself within Grant’s portraiture style as he captured his chosen sitters.

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Duncan Grant, Paul Roche with leg raised; date unknown, charcoal and gouache. Photograph © Christies 2015

 

In the summer of 1910, Grant and Keynes holidayed together in Greece and Turkey, and took delight in photographing each other naked against the backdrop of the aged classical landscape. Christopher Reed saw the activity of picture-taking as Keynes’ and Grants’ way of ‘enacting the links they perceived between ancient and modern homoeroticism.’, and this was therefore a kind of an affirmation of sexuality; ‘…free of the repressive structures of [their] own culture[s].’

For Grant, it would have brought into clearer focus through the lens in his mind, the image of the classical male nude; ‘out of doors,.’ Bathing (1911) captures Grant’s idealised version of the male nude, aptly classicized in following of his preferred artistic style. The work was praised; namely, The Spectator remarked that, ‘…the figure scrambling into the boat in the background is a noble piece of draughtsmanship…[the work] gives an extraordinary impression of the joys of lean athletic life.’ Grant hired a model which he photographed in his studio in preparation for the work, allowing him the freedom as well as the accuracy to produce the life-size panorama that came to be so successful.

 

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Duncan Grant, Bathing (1911), oil paint on canvas, Photograph © Tate.

Duncan Grant’s relationships with his models have been much looked at and written about, as they are interesting and complex; they were an integral part of his work and life. Though he made studies of men and women alike; ‘Integral to his creative process…attractive men were as vital a source for Duncan ‘s creative imagination as women were for Picasso’s.”, and he drew his lovers.

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CHA/P/2630 Duncan Grant, study of female nude, charcoal on paper, Photograph © The Charleston Trust

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CHA/P/2629 Duncan Grant, study of female nude, charcoal on paper, Photograph © The Charleston Trust

 

The sitters depicted in these sketches of his that we have unearthed this week as part of the Angelica Garnett Gift are less familiar to us. Grant used numerous models in his work throughout his lifetime; some who were paid, though many were family, friends, close or acquaintances.

The two sketches of the female nudes are drawn with their heads turned away from us; their bodies twisted slightly away from the way they are facing, a pose subtly characteristic of Grant’s nudes. These two females were paid models who sat for Grant in about 1930. As a more established artist, Grant would have been able to afford to do this more than he had done so in his early career. The two sketches of the male nudes, both signed and dated, are of friends of their artist. Their inscriptions; ‘Mark, Charleston, 4th June ‘70’, and, ‘EC Farah, ‘65’, refer to the model, date and the place they were done. (Charleston, in the case of the 1970 drawing), as stylistically, we can attribute the works to Grant although he did not sign them.

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CHA/P/2629 Duncan Grant, study of male nude, charcoal on paper, (1970), Photograph © The Charleston Trust

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CHA/P/2634 Duncan Grant, study of male nude, charcoal on paper, (1965), Photograph © The Charleston Trust

From the relaxed way they hold themselves, as well as the intimate perspectives from which they are drawn, there is the sense that all of the sitters felt comfortable exposing themselves to Grant for the sake of his art, as was often the case. The sense of truth expressed in the body laid bare is heightened when it is expressed by creative means, and Duncan Grant made no secret in asserting his creativity.

 

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