The Charleston Attic

Tag: Angelica Garnett

From Patterned to Plain: A Visit to the Courtauld Gallery Exhibition on Omega Workshops

We visited the Courtauld Gallery’s display of items from the Omega Workshops. The Workshops operated in London between 1913 and 1919 under the directorship of Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. The Courtauld is fortunate to be able to draw on its extensive collection of Bloomsbury art and design, much of which was bequeathed to it by Fry.

The current exhibition is small, but it successfully demonstrates the willingness of the Omega artists to apply their decorative ideas in many forms, from fine art, to rugs, screens and tableware. The exhibition even includes a musical instrument, a type of harpsichord known as a virginal. This was extravagantly decorated by Fry, somewhat to the dismay of Arnold Dolmetsch who made it.  

The exhibition was effective in teasing out different aesthetic ideas within the group by placing highly patterned work alongside deceptively simple ceramics. We were thrilled to see Duncan Grant’s Lily Pond Design, familiar from the table at Charleston, applied in a dramatically different context on a large folding screen (pattern has been photographed below). Grant’s work made an interesting contrast with a selection of Fry’s monotone tableware, in which Fry pursued his interest in form and the imperfections left by the artist’s touch.

Lily Pond design on screen

Duncan Grant, 1913-14, oil on wood, screen with Lily Pond design, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London


Roger Fry, 1913, white coffee pot, , tin-glazed earthenware © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

The exhibition also touched on the Omega artists’ receptiveness to the influence of other cultures.  For example, Grant is said to have borrowed ‘liberally from African textiles’ for a rug design (see below).[i] This is perhaps not surprising as African designs featured in Fry’s lectures and the Omega Workshops sold textiles produced for the African market.  Moreover, the Omega Workshops’ active period followed a period of heightened interest in African art, especially among artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Fry, some of whom owned African sculptures.  Further signs that Grant shared their interest can also be found in the Angelica Garnett Gift, which includes sketches of African dance masks.


Duncan Grant, 1913, rug, hand-knotted wool with a jute or hemp warp, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London


Dance mask

CHA/P/3316, Duncan Grant, drawing, Bapende dance mask, colour wash and charcoal, © Charleston Trust

Dance mask

CHA/P/3323, Duncan Grant, Ibibio dance mask, charcoal on paper, © Charleston Trust


The shape and colour of Fry’s ceramics echo those of the Chinese Song dynasty (960-1279) and include his 20th century take on a traditional rice bowl and a turquoise tureen with a bison, or Chinese lion, on the lid.


Roger Fry, c. 1916, black-glazed bowl, glazed earthenware, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London


Roger Fry, 1915, blue-glazed cover tureen, glazed earthenware, mould made © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Previous posts on the blog describe how Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell shared Fry’s interest in China, especially after Julian Bell’s move to Wuhan in central China to teach English. This is also reflected in the Angelica Garnett Gift, where we have re-discovered tourist souvenirs from China and sketches of figures wearing traditional dress known as ‘Han Fu’.

Chinese tourist souvenir

CHA/P/4029, Chinese souvenir of floral design and traditional poem, ink on Chinese paper, © Charleston Trust

Chinese child

CHA/P/4024, Vanessa Bell/Duncan Grant, Chinese child, pencil on tracing paper, © Charleston Trust

The exhibition ‘Bloomsbury Art and Design’ continues until 21 September 2017. For further details click here to visit their website.




[i] Courtauld Gallery London, Bloomsbury Art and Design, London: Courtauld Gallery, 2017.

An Unexpected Frieze

A beautiful frieze was re-discovered today! Under a magnifying lens we identified that the frieze was hand painted with a chalk based paint, applied onto plaster. Dating from around 1800, it is possible that a technique called fresco was used, which means the artist painted directly onto wet plaster. The frieze could have been used for a number of different decorative purposes: a mural, the edging of a frame or it could have been applied directly onto the wall. The frieze was not created by one of our Bloomsbury heroes however it was evidently a source of inspiration given that it has been carefully wrapped in brown paper.


CHA/P/3766, wallcovering frieze stuck onto squared paper wrapped in brown parcel paper with hand written annotation ‘Frise’, chalk based paint on plaster, c. 1800.
© The Charleston Trust.

Unfortunately only one of the two frieze examples survives. With only a small amount of debris left, the first almost non-existent frieze is decorated with shades of duck egg green. Much more intact, the other frieze is of an acanthus leaf which is painted in shades of brown with a delicate gold finish.

The frieze was in the middle of a sketchbook with ‘SENS’ written on the cover. It is likely that the sketchbook belonged to Duncan Grant as the book bears his name on the back page. As well as this, letters and postcards stored in the Tate’s Archive were sent from Sens, France by Grant to Vanessa Bell in December

Front [22 December 1924] by Duncan Grant 1885-1978
Postcard written by Duncan Grant to Vanessa Bell sent from Sens, 24 December 1924. Photograph © Tate Archives.

The paper ephemera contains Grant’s excitement after visiting Sens and Dijon Cathedrals, explaining how they make ‘a lovely drawing’.[2] Several pages in the sketchbook are of murals and biblical scenes that have probably been inspired by these Cathedrals.

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CHA/P/3766, biblical scene with hand written annotation ‘Sens’, pencil on paper, c. 1924. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

On one of Grant’s many trips to France, this frieze has probably been removed from a building of some significance given the fine workmanship of the object. Could the frieze have come from one of these magnificent buildings Grant visited on his travels? There are many mysteries that surround this frieze, but what an excellent thing to re-discover in the middle of a sketchbook.


[1] In two letters to Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant speaks of his fondness of the cathedrals. Letters can be found at the Tate Archive:,

[2] Tate Archive, Postcard from Duncan Grant to Vanessa Bell, 24 December 1924, Online access:

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.’


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.



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.’


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.



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.


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


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.


Angelica Garnett: A Legacy at Charleston

Of the last descendant of Bloomsbury’s ‘inner-circle’, an impressive obituary of 4th May 2012 remarks that Angelica’s parentage gave her a ‘double share of Bloomsbury inheritance.’  The only child of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Angelica Vanessa Garnett was a talented woman. Undoubtedly affected by her parents’ artistic talents and her unconventional upbringing at Charleston, Angelica’s vast resume encompassed writer, painter, performer, ceramicist and sculptor.

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CHA/P/1643 Angelica Garnett. Two children sat at table. Painting. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Born at Charleston on Christmas Day of 1918 Angelica’s arrival marked the end of the war as well as the end of her parent’s sexual relationship; however, her birth tied them together in a significant way, perhaps a reason for living and working together for the remainder of their lives.

Angelica grew up being doted on by her mother, though her paternal relationships were a little more complicated; growing up believing that her father, like her brothers, was Clive Bell. Angelica was informed of her true parentage at the age of 18, upon sternly being advised not to mention the subject again. Where Vanessa perhaps believed that her child had the love of two fathers, Angelica wrote that ‘in reality,’ she ‘had none’. Her widely acclaimed memoir of this period Deceived with Kindness, the experience of growing up at the centre of the Bloomsbury Group, is considered an important part of the set’s social literature.

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CHA/P/1642 Angelica Garnett. Woodland animals by stream. Watercolour and Pencil on Paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Angelica’s legacy does not end with literature. Many of her early art works (often produced in collaboration with Vanessa) can still be viewed at Charleston, a special example displayed in the spare bedroom. Her sketchbooks also form part of Charleston’s archive, containing fashion design, pattern design and still lives. Recognising and promoting Charleston as a place of significant artistic heritage, Angelica and her brother Quentin’s gift of the house to the Trust along with their tireless work during its period of restoration in the 1980s was instrumental in securing a future for Charleston post-Bloomsbury.


 CHA/P/2437 /21 Angelica Garnett. Waistcoat design. Pencil on Paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Aside from the estate, perhaps Angelica’s biggest legacy is the Angelica Garnett Gift, a collection of over 8000 works on paper and canvas. The pieces, mainly works by her parents, had previously filled the drawers, cupboards and studios at Charleston. After Duncan Grant’s death they were held in London at an art storage facility and were largely unseen for nearly 30 years. In 2008 these works were gifted to The Trust, and the exciting work of discovery began. Previously unpublished, this inspiring collection teaches us about the artistic practices and evolution of two internationally acclaimed artists.


CHA/P/2437/5 Angelica Garnett. Domestic pattern, red and blue crown with green leaves. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

The Gift continues to encourage new insights into Bloomsbury’s creative processes and engages us (the attic interns) in the museum documentation processes of cataloguing, digitalizing, conservation and research. Angelica’s gift to Charleston was generous and significant; with it she leaves an important legacy, one that celebrates her family, their work and more intimately, their lives.

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CHA/P/2436/17 Angelica Garnett. Moored boats by trees and houses. Watercolour on Paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.


Child’s Play

“to become a child is to be very literal; to find everything so strange nothing is surprising” (Virginia Woolf, ‘Lewis Carroll’)

Can art catapult one back to childhood? Woolf’s reading of Alice in Wonderland – written when her niece Angelica Garnett was a newly mature twenty one – responds cheerfully in the affirmative. This week in the gift we discovered a collection of childhood drawings by Angelica Garnett; immersed in their whimsical world of elaborately dressed dowagers, fugitive pets and fairy princesses, we too can concur with Woolf’s statement.


CHA/P/2279 Recto. Angelica Garnett, drawing, sketch of woman and animals, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

The first stages a triumphant escape by a trio of varyingly domesticated animals: a pig charges forth upon an enormous daisy, followed by two similarly transported dogs. A young woman looks uneasily upon the scene from below, her arm outstretched in appeal. Woolf’s spaniel Pinka frequently visited Charleston during Garnett’s childhood – if not floating on flowers then certainly frolicking amongst them – but such jaunts were necessarily fleeting. Indeed, Garnett’s puzzling little sketch may appear trivial, but it evokes a mood both playful and plaintive strikingly commensurate with her recollection of childhood in Deceived with Kindness (1984).


CHA/P/2279 Verso. Angelica Garnett, drawing, sketch of two women, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Overleaf, Garnett’s young woman makes a partial return: her severe bob is suddenly in bejewelled bouclés; her gesture of anguish replicated as an expression of etiquette by two (rather sullen) debutantes in full crinoline. A neat, prim signature is followed by a sprawling, decorative reiteration, only to transform again into a tiny set of initials floating by a woman’s head like a stray sartorial embellishment. Practicing her signature, Garnett might also be understood as rehearsing alternate identities, an experiment with selfhood as provisional and fanciful as her drawings.


CHA/P/2281 Recto. Angelica Garnett, drawing, sketch of fairies, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

The next shows a fairy en pointe holding a star-spangled staff, wearing a shapely bodiced dress and a petal tutu. Garnett’s fairy queen displays a delight in costume styling reminiscent, perhaps, of  Duncan Grant’s elaborate ballet designs previously explored on the blog. Beneath her a series of bonneted women scurry into the distance, one arm held aloft; Garnett’s figures become incrementally smaller, until the woman’s form is suggested merely by a collection of inky dots. Here the infant artist does not merely draw for pleasure or identity practice, but sketches as a form of self-schooling, attempting a study of movement and perspective.

Notable too in Garnett’s drawings is her choice of canvas. Conventional sketch pads are shunned, with Garnett composing instead upon the letter paper of 37 Gordon Square; a location that remains, however, curiously absent from Garnett’s memoir. Vanessa Bell moved to number 37 with her four year old daughter in 1922 and remained there until 1929, but it is 46 Gordon Square that Garnett recalls as site of infant artistic experimentation and play. Whether ‘paper-cutting’ chains of ‘ballet dancers’ and ‘exotic flowers’, or receiving a painting lesson from Vanessa (if regrettably, ‘almost the only’ one) Garnett recalls relishing the creative opportunities afforded by living amongst the artists and intellectuals of their London address.

And yet, looking again at Garnett’s fantastical sketches, the exclusion of 37 Gordon Square from the realm of autobiographical realism seems rather fitting. A space productive of fantasy must also bear its imprint, remaining concealed from prying, public eyes. Although composed upon letter paper, Garnett’s drawings are not necessarily seeking a recipient: was Garnett hoping to circulate these images amongst her family and friends as if they were, indeed, dispatches from her interior world, or was she merely visualising its structures and subjects to reinforce its private reality?

Garnett’s fantasy world is evidently ‘quite unlike ours’ (as Vanessa Bell remarks of the visions saturating her own childhood) yet it does cast an illuminating light over the art world of Garnett’s infancy.

Roger Fry lauded the ‘direct expressiveness’ of artwork by children, seeing their capacity to convey emotion as far surpassing the abilities of their adult counterparts. An exhibition of children’s drawings at the Omega Workshops in 1917 cemented Fry’s celebration of their work as not merely a trifling interest, but as a serious challenge to the hierarchies and limitations of the conventional art historical canon. Published concurrently to the exhibition, Fry articulated the particular power of their work in an article for The Burlington Magazine. In ‘Children’s Drawings’ Fry highlights a sketch of a snake by nine year old David John (son of artist Augustus John) arguing that his drawing – if appearing naïve – uniquely embodied ‘the snakiness of the snake’. Motivated solely by ‘a vivid directness of feeling’, children can approach the canvas unobstructed by tradition or regulation. Figurative study constitutes an important part of any artistic apprenticeship, but Fry frames the child-artist as more creator than copier, more concerned with imagination than mimesis:

‘Children, if left to themselves, never, I believe, copy what they see, never, as we say, “draw from nature”, but express, with a delightful freedom and sincerity, the mental images which make up their own imaginative lives.’

The energy and inventiveness of Garnett’s drawings suggest a home environment where her imaginative life and its expression were encouraged. Fry was, after all, ‘a grandfather with paternal and avuncular overtones’; judging by Garnett’s charming early work, one might assume his benevolent presence moved easily from the affectionate to the artistic.

A nascent talent can be seen in full bloom in Garnett’s later paintings.  Here Garnett depicts a very different pair of young women: her daughters.


CHA/P/53 Angelica Garnett, painting, “Two girls”, circa 1940, ink and gouache on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Spots, Dots and Dashes

Pattern design is central to the art of Bloomsbury. From the repeated motifs which can be seen at Charleston to the rugs and linens produced by the Omega Workshops experiments with repeated shapes and bold colours are a common theme in the legacy of the group. As we prepare to hand over the Angelica Garnett Gift into the safe hands of our new attic interns we wanted to share some of the beautiful designs that have been found in the Gift to date.


CHA/P/1658 Recto. Duncan Grant, painting, pattern design, pen and paint on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

‘The Omega scorned the Edwardian taste for pastel shades and matching tones; it flung reds, greens, blues and purples across table tops and on to screens.’


CHA/P/1809 Recto. Duncan Grant, painting, two tile designs, pencil and watercolour on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

most innovative craftsmen and women of the inter-war years sought qualities closely linked to developments in fine art. Touch, spontaneity and a freshness with materials (paramount qualities for Fry) became essential goals.’


CHA/P/1717 Recto. Duncan Grant, painting, bird pattern design, watercolours and coloured pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

By April 1913 Vanessa Bell had discovered the challenge of designing pattern repeats: ‘it’s rather fun painting after doing all these patterns. Duncan has been trying to do a pattern but gets even more muddled than I do, in fact I don’t think he’ll ever master repeats.’


CHA/P/1676 Recto. Duncan Grant, drawing, carpet design, coloured pencil and ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust


‘the printed linens are [?being] executed also a certain number of hand made rugs but I am anxious to get on to carpets…. My artists show a surprising aptitude for design of all kinds. They have a [?charming] invention and real taste… the great problem is how to boil down ideas into practical results.’ (Roger Fry to collector Michael Sadler)

‘… I do think we shall have to be careful, especially in England where it seems one can never get away from this fatal prettiness. Can’t we paint stuffs etc which won’t be gay and pretty?’  (Vanessa Bell to Roger Fry)


 Just as Charleston was transformed and evolved over the years with the artists decorating surfaces with patterns and designs so must the Angelica Garnett Gift. We wish the new interns the best of luck with their work and hope you enjoy reading about their discoveries and research.

‘The Honeymoon’


Duncan Grant (left) with John Maynard Keynes (right)

We recently found a painting in the Angelica Garnett Gift by Duncan Grant which depicts a landscape far away from Sussex that was painted some time before Vanessa Bell, Grant and Bunny Garnett moved to Charleston; a token of the artist’s life and love a decade before his partnership with Bell at the house began.

In 1908 Grant’s romance with his cousin, Lytton Strachey, was coming to a close. With Lytton away lecturing in economics at Cambridge University, Grant grew increasingly close to Lytton’s friend, former lover, and fellow Apostle, the economist John Maynard Keynes. On discovering Grant and Keynes’ blossoming romance on his return to London,  Strachey was deeply aggrieved: ‘Of all the darkly amorous crises sprinkled throughout his life,’ writes Strachey’s biographer Michael Holroyd, ‘this was perhaps the most wretched.’ Having confided in Keynes about Grant, and in Grant about Keynes, Strachey felt both humiliated and betrayed now that his two close companions had united: ‘It came as an explosive shock,’ Holroyd writes, ‘a kind of death. Like the violent eruption of an earthquake which alters every feature in the surrounding landscape, this sudden revelation destroyed in a few moments the whole structure of his last three years.’ As Grant’s biographer Frances Spalding observes,

Now [Strachey] had to realise that he had lost both idol and confidant, a double blow that must have left him horribly alone. He was also extremely sceptical about Maynard’s capacity for love and raged against him to his brother James, privately dismissing his rival as ‘a safety-bicycle with genitals’.

In spite of his personal grief, however, Strachey made a concerted effort to remain on good terms with his two friends, offering to pay Grant’s painting tuition fees and sending Keynes a parcel of books ‘to adorn his rooms at King’s’. Although seemingly warm-hearted gestures, Holroyd has suggested that Strachey’s actions were motivated by the belief that, ‘his behaviour might win him back some of the esteem which he had shed, and at the same time prompt feelings of guilt in his treacherous friends.’

Despite Lytton’s heartbreak – and the feelings of regret his gifts did provoke in the pair –  Grant and Keynes continued to see one another. At the height of their romance in July of that year, Grant was invited away for the summer. ‘I have just received an invitation to go and spend some time in the Orkney Islands with a millionaire who owns Hoy,’ Grant wrote to Keynes, referring to a friend of his mother’s, Thomas Middlemore, who in 1898 had bought the island for £32000. ‘Much as I love the Orkneys,’ he declared, ‘I love you more and don’t know what to do. Do advise me.’ Keynes readily agreed to join Grant for the holiday, a trip that would be bitterly referred to by Strachey as the couple’s ‘Honeymoon’.


The Orkney Islands (Hoy bottom left)

Duncan travelled to Hoy ahead of Keynes, a mammoth twenty-seven hour journey that would take him first to Stromness, then by ferry and motorboat to Melsetter, Middlemore’s estate on Hoy. Spalding describes the journey:

The small boat tossed and dipped in a stormy sea for what seemed like three hours, but Duncan, drenched to the skin, thoroughly enjoyed himself, observing the cormorants, the seals, the spray and the colours in the islands, sea and sky. Even so, he was glad of the champagne given him on arrival.

After two days Grant had already grown tired of his fellow guests at Melsetter and eagerly awaited Keynes’ arrival. ‘Dearest’ he penned, ‘at this moment I would give my soul to the Devil if I could kiss you and be kissed.’ Deciding to leave the estate and stay elsewhere when Keynes arrived, Grant wrote to tell him that he had discovered the perfect location for their holiday, describing the village – called Rackwick – as a place, ‘Where the people are frequently mad from too frequent incest…There is no priest, no church and no policemen. Don’t you think we’d better go there at once?

Keynes joined Grant on the island on the 18th August, 1908. Together the couple led a peaceful and orderly existence over the coming weeks. Each would spend several hours a day working; Keynes would write (he began his ‘Theory of Probability’ on Hoy) and Grant would paint (Grant started his celebrated portrait of Keynes that was purchased by the sitter’s father and later bequeathed to King’s College Cambridge, in whose collection it remains today). When the pair were not at work they would read Jane Austen aloud to one another and go for long hikes to explore the island’s glorious landscape. The painting in the Angelica Garnett Gift that inspired this blog post is a careful watercolour study of Hoy, and was quite likely to have been painted during this 1908 trip. While the work has been dated 1905 on the back in pen, it is quite possible that this date was assigned after its production, as Grant would often sign and post-date (often inaccurately) his works for sale later in life.


CHA/P/1957, Duncan Grant, painting, Hoy, c. 1908 (dated 1905), watercolour on paper, 25.7 cm x 35.7 cm. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

It was with much reluctance that in late October the two friends departed Hoy, Keynes travelling back to Cambridge, Grant to Rothiemurchus where he spent a few days at his family’s ancestral home, the Doune. Writing to Keynes from this remote and idyllic location, Grant admitted:

This place is so gorgeously lovely that the Orkneys have been blotted out of my visual memory…but not you.

Despite their happiness, the closeness that the couple had experienced during their summer on Hoy would not be felt to such an extent again, and in April 1909 Grant admitted to James Strachey that he was no longer in love with Keynes. Lytton Strachey, now released from the anxiety that the affair had provoked in him, commiserated with Keynes, his words filled with sympathy if also tinged slightly with relief:

Love’s the very devil. But it is Time’s fool; and my experience is that when it’s once flown finally out of the window one’s astonished to find one can get on well without it.


Detail of a photograph of John Maynard Keynes (left) and Lytton Strachey (right) by Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1915 © National Portrait Gallery

Painting Plymouth: Duncan Grant and the British Navy

Today is the anniversary of VE Day, marking seventy years since the end of World War II in Europe. This momentous occasion will be commemorated with events all over the United Kingdom. The Angelica Garnett Gift has recently unearthed a number of sketches featuring naval officers in Plymouth, and today seemed the perfect time to share these works by Duncan Grant. These drawings offer insight into Grant’s occupation during the war and also allow an opportunity to reflect on Charleston and what VE Day meant to its residents.



Top: CHA/P/1398, Duncan Grant, Figure Studies, ink pen on paper, 1940, 25.9 cm x 17.8 cm. Photograph © The Charleston Trust. Bottom: CHA/P/1011, Duncan Grant, An Officer and a Sailor, pencil on paper, 1940, 39.6 cm x 29cm. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Grant had been approached by the War Artists Advisory Committee in March 1940 and following discussion he agreed to travel to Plymouth and work on producing naval studies. In return for his commitment Grant would receive a wage of one pound a day plus travelling expenses and worked under the condition that he would submit all sketches and finished works for censorship. He lived and worked in Plymouth for two weeks and whilst there met with John Nash, who was working as an official war artist. Nash warned Grant that ‘spy mania’ was rife in the docklands and that it would be impossible to paint in that area without constant interruption. Following Nash’s advice Grant chose to depict sailors undertaking gunnery lessons in the naval barracks, and it is the sketches of these observations that we have found as part of the Angelica Garnett Gift. Other preliminary sketches and the final finished work depicting Grant’s time recording the working lives of sailors in Plymouth are in the collections at the Imperial War Museum.


CHA/P/1014, Duncan Grant, Two Military Figures, 1940, pencil and Biro pen on paper, 29 cm x 39.4 cm. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Despite the devastation that was heaped upon the area during the Blitz, Grant was grateful for his experiences of naval life. In a letter to Jane Bussy, written in June 1940, Vanessa Bell describes how he returned;

‘with a great respect for their immense efficiency and charm and had most interesting stories of high and low life in Plymouth.’

Bell was an avid letter writer during the war and in the Selected Letters of Vanessa Bell, edited by Regina Marler, we see her describe the daily difficulties or war, being unable to travel and seek the company of friends, growing awareness of death and how ‘untidy’ the world was becoming. A letter dated March 12th 1945 to her daughter Angelica gives an account of ‘V week’ and how members of Bloomsbury and the local community chose to commemorate the occasion;

‘We have had a very quiet V[ictory] week except for Maynard’s entertainments… we enjoyed open windows and lights streaming out, and fireworks in the distance and even, we thought the lights of London – and bonfires everywhere…Finally we went home and turned on all our outdoor lights and the garden was simply fairy land – with nightingales- yes, we were sure of it – singing loudly. we walked about on the lawn and did our best to realise we were at peace’


Photograph of VE Day Celebrations in London, 8th May 1945. © Rootsweb Ancestry



1st Birthday Blog Post: Duncan Grant’s Murals for Lincoln Cathedral

This post marks one year of The Charleston Attic blog. We have had an incredible time so far uncovering unusual and exciting items up in the Attic Studio here at Charleston. Thank you to all of our readers who have joined the journey! Here’s to another successful year…

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Charleston in the spring. Photographs © Penelope Fewster

Spring has well and truly sprung at Charleston; the garden is full of blooms, the new season’s visitors are exploring the house and the sun has been shining for days on end. There are new arrivals too; lambs and calves have been spotted in the fields surrounding the house and, for a few days last week, a brood of ducklings could be seen enjoying the pool in Duncan Grant’s Folly.

In almost perfect harmony, the Angelica Garnett Gift has been similarly full of new life over the past few weeks. In the archive boxes in the Attic Studio we have uncovered endless dog-eared drawings and yellowing newspaper clippings of farm animals, made or collected by Duncan Grant. From detailed sketches capturing the likeness of a cow’s head and the fluffiness of tiny chicks, to hasty records of sheep being sheared by strong farm-hands and grainy photographs of shepherds with their flocks, this extensive collection of imagery provides an evocative snapshot of rural life at Charleston when Bell and Grant lived at the house.

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Drawings of sheep and a folder of sketches in the Angelica Garnett Gift. Photographs © The Charleston Trust

As discussed briefly in previous posts here and here, many of these drawings and clippings were created and used by Grant for his mural commission in the St. Blaise Chapel at Lincoln Cathedral, completed in 1958. A theme of sheep and wool is at the centre of the scheme, which includes depictions of Christ as the Good Shepherd, St. Blaise; the chapel’s namesake and patron saint of wool combers, sheep shearers, and ships being loaded with bales of wool in 15th century Lincoln. The city had been at the centre of Britain’s medieval wool trade, therefore this combination of local history and industry with spiritual examples was considered a suitable subject for a new mural commission by the Dean and Chapter of the cathedral. As one of Britain’s foremost artists and mural painters at the time, Grant was invited to undertake the job.

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Studies of sheep shearing and wool by Duncan Grant in the Angelica Garnett Gift. Photographs © The Charleston Trust

After the theme had been agreed and commission confirmed in 1954, Grant set to work on the designs in his studio at Charleston. In addition to drawing animals and farm labourers from life in the fields surrounding the house, Grant also used his friends and family to model for the figures in the scheme. It is thought that Vanessa Bell and Angelica Garnett are included as medieval women, however it is Grant’s friend Paul Roche who is so obviously captured as Christ the Good Shepherd, and used as a model for the sheep shearers and muscular workers loading the ship with wool. Roche recalled having to pose for Grant in uncomfortable positions and with all manner of cushions and blankets slung over his shoulders in place of a lamb. A number of the resulting studies have been found in the Gift, including some with annotations by Grant denoting their intended use.


 Studies for the murals by Duncan Grant. Photographs © The Charleston Trust

Despite the aesthetic success of Grant’s scheme with its bright colours and expressive figures, it was not popular with many of the congregation or clergy, and from the 1960s until the 1990s it remained hidden when the chapel was closed to visitors and used as a store room. Even when the cathedral’s first guide book was published in 1977, which included glossy colour plates of its interior, Grant’s mural scheme was excluded entirely. The artist died the following year. Although in recent years the chapel has been restored to its original purpose and Grant’s murals have undergone conservation, they are still not widely publicised and are only mentioned briefly on the history page of the cathedral’s website: ‘Later generations added the wonderful carved screen, the 14th century misericords, the Wren Library and the Duncan Grant frescoes.’

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St. Blaise Chapel murals by Duncan Grant. Image sourced here.

The reasons behind the murals’ demotion into obscurity during these years remain unclear, however a number of scholars have argued that the realism and physicality of the figures – confirmed by the recognisable portraits of Grant’s own friends, family and lovers in the guise of historical and religious figures – was what led to their unpopularity. His depiction of Roche as a young, muscular, and clean-shaven Christ was particularly challenging and at odds with established representations.

Like other members of the Bloomsbury group, Grant was not a religious man and therefore his intentions for the scene can be seen to have been motivated by artistic rather than spiritual interest. In his own notes about the project, Grant admitted,

‘I am sorry to say that I am very ignorant of the iconography of Christian art, and the fact that I chose to represent Christ as a youth was due to the whole spirit of the subject, chosen to combine scenes of everyday life in the sheep country with the issue of the Good Shepherd.’

As we know that Grant studied the people and animals around his Sussex home for the scheme, his conception of ‘everyday life’ can be seen to be that lived at Charleston; an experimental, bohemian existence that was at odds with what many, especially conservative members of the congregation, would have considered ‘normal’. With an explosion of public interest in the Bloomsbury group’s controversial lifestyle following the publication of Michael Holdroyd’s biography of Lytton Strachey in the late 1960s, perhaps the world depicted on the walls of the chapel suddenly became too intimate and suggestive, and therefore a source of embarrassment for the Church authorities. About this we can only speculate.

Without an inkling of their later fate, Grant, Vanessa Bell, Quentin Bell and his four year old son, Julian, watched the finished murals depart Charleston for Lincoln by lorry in August 1956. Quentin’s wife, Anne Olivier Bell, captured the scene in this wonderful black and white photograph below, which accompanies a remarkably similar image of the Angelica Garnett Gift returning by lorry to Charleston in 2008. Nestled amongst all manner of paintings, sketchbooks and boxes of loose works were these fascinating preparatory drawings of animals and farm labourers; snapshots of rural Sussex life and documents of one of Grant’s most intriguing – and controversial – commissions.


Left: The murals departing Charleston for Lincoln Cathedral in 1956. Photograph © Anne Olivier Bell. Right: The Angelica Garnett Gift arriving at Charleston in 2008. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Excavating Bloomsbury – The Angelica Garnett Gift and the Archaeological Imagination

Last week on the first day of Charleston’s 2015 opening, curatorial trainee Dorian Knight presented his research on the Angelica Garnett Gift. He focused on how this archive in its entirety can be analysed using the approaches of an archaeologist, with the intention of yielding a new and original interpretation.

This was done by thinking about ruins, a theme of obvious concern to archaeologists. If we consider an ancient temple that has fallen into ruin, our attention is first drawn to the picturesque processes of material decay, ivy and moss growing into crumbling stone. This ruination is parallel to the state of the Angelica Garnett Gift; prior to its cataloguing the Gift was raw, unprocessed and unconserved, with stranded and fragmented pages of all sizes, ages and materials, grouped together en masse as seen below, items occasionally wrapped around one another, materials smudging. Thinking of the Gift in this way draws attention to the materiality of the objects as they undergo ruination, which can lead to a number of speculations about their character and aesthetics.

Items in the gift prior to photographing and cataloguing. ©The Charleston Trust.

Items in the gift prior to photographing and cataloguing. ©The Charleston Trust.

One of these speculations is the importance of the medium itself; although it is the artistic content of the Angelica Garnett Gift that may garner the most interest, I believe thinking as an archaeologist highlights the importance of these pieces not just as art works, but as artefacts, to be felt, touched and sensed; because to engage with the sensory, tactile and corporeal nature of the Gift is to appreciate it on a profound level that forces us to pay attention to the physical textures of the Bloomsbury world.

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