The Charleston Attic

Tag: Art

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

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This week a team from Dulwich Picture Gallery visited Charleston for the day in order to photograph objects and interiors for the upcoming exhibition ‘Vanessa Bell 1876-1961’.

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

 

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’.

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 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.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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.

 

Omega Textiles: Artistic Production for Domestic Design

An inscription featured on the verso of this object allows us a glimpse into what its image might conceal. The address of Omega Workshops Ltd. ‘33 Fitzroy Square’ is inscribed on the paper. This firm, which was directors’ Roger Fry, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bells’ first experiment in commercial domestic design, was in a way a patronage of their recognisably bold modernist design aesthetic.

With roots in many aspects of the Arts and Crafts movement, which developed at the end of the 19th century, Omega, established in 1913, sought to remove perceived divisions between the decorative and fine arts. Designing and producing furniture, textiles, painted murals and household goods; the Omega Workshops became a method through which Fry could employ and encourage artistic work from many of his friends and acquaintances. The aesthetic of Omega was largely Post-Impressionist, however numerous other influences become apparent when studying the breadth of work produced in their short period of trading.

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CHA/P/2622.  Omega pattern design. Gouache on graph paper. Recto. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Standing alone, as a piece of art usually must, the design is modern, geometric and angular in composition. Its circles, arranged in context like cogs revolving in a mechanical engine seem an influence at odds with the arts and crafts ethos, one of Vorticist and Cubo-Futurist movements of the period. These sought to capture speed and energy with an interest in the mechanics and dynamics of the modern age.

A couple of words scattered on the back of the piece craft a complex history of its authorship; these read ‘Not by VB. Fry?’. Inscribed in pencil as lightly as the comment is unsure of itself, they are markings of a number of possible viewers. We know Grant signed many works retrospectively in the 1960s (sometimes even signing the work of others, often attributing work to ‘VB’), both for exhibition and sale. Previous to the Angelica Garnett collection being gifted to Charleston, others would have had access to the works so this inscription could have been penned by a viewer after Grant’s death. The letters on the recto of the image (written contemporaneously) seem to spell ‘soiree’ which could be the authors title for the piece, and below a three letter initial which matches none of the known members’ signatures. According to the inscriptions on the verso, the latter authority must have agreed, and attributes the image (uncertainly) to Roger Fry.

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CHA/P/2622. Blank page with inscriptions; ‘Not by VB. Fry?’ and ’33 Fitzroy Square’. Verso. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

The design is painted in gouache on graph paper; the squared canvas allowing for precise straight lines and calculated geometric pattern. Additionally, this material could have been used to accommodate a better translation into a rug, cushion or textile design. Omega artists produced patterns and these unusual designs had to be translated, often creatively, by manufacturers. Omega rug designs were thought to be manufactured by English firm ‘The Royal Wilton Carpet Factory’ who opened a London office in 1913. To ensure products were bought for their aesthetic appeal and quality, and not for the reputation of the artist or designer, works were not signed individually. Works were marked only by the letter ‘Ω’. This could be why the design appears not to be signed by any known Omega textile artist.

It is possible that this piece was created by Frederick Etchells, painter and founding member of the Omega workshops, following that many of his works on canvas were highly geometrical in style. In 1913, during production of works for Omega, Etchells worked closely and in collaboration with Duncan Grant in Grant’s London studio. Etchells decision to leave the guild at the end of that year was followed by his joining Wyndham Lewis’ Vorticists, a group that were in opposition to Omega. Though Etchells soon gave up painting and became a successful architect, this preliminary work certainly shows a sense of the architectural, featuring blocks built on top of one another with relief-like circular and square forms structured into the image.

Although the written signature is missing here; the signing ultimately is in the work, where paint and painter combine to produce a corporeal object and image standing in for the body and then name of the painter. We can only speculate as to who the author is but this preliminary design for a textile shows a vision for domestic design that remains modern 100 years after its production.

“Chloe liked Olivia”

a conversation

A Conversation, Vanessa Bell. 1913-1916. Photograph © The Samuel Courtauld Trust

Compiling research for her survey of contemporary women’s fiction in 1929, Virginia Woolf came across a startling line in a novel by Mary Carmichael: Chloe liked Olivia. Carmichael’s statement may appear straightforward, but it radically refuted all Woolf’s reading thus far.

Do not start. Do not blush. Let us admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes happen. Sometimes women do like women.

One needn’t look far to find women in discord, their relations ruptured by jealousy; anything more nuanced has been ‘left out’, Woolf laments in A Room of One’s Own, ‘unattempted’. Novels may busy themselves endlessly over women’s relation to men, but rarely are the particulars of female friendship afforded any significant attention in literary culture.

Three women huddle by a window, deep in conversation; a bed of tulips rise from the garden beyond as if straining to catch any stray chatter. Bell’s 1913-1916 painting A Conversation precedes Woolf’s passionate polemic by nearly fifteen years, yet appears to capture precisely what Woolf saw as so lacking in fiction. Original and defiant, Bell’s piece discards the trappings of heteronormative domesticity Woolf regarded as so pervasive in the representation of her peers. Intimacy, Woolf argues, has not been authentically imagined beyond the confines of straight coupledom; however Bell’s scene boldly discards men and their concerns, celebrating rather a feminine, communal model of kinship. Maternity one of few themes in the art historical canon enabling depictions of female subjectivity is similarly shunned. Instead Bell conjures a scene of women powerfully asserting their presence, vividly breaking the silence imposed upon them by literary and artistic culture. Just as Bell can be observed adapting her bathing scenes to attenuate the more prurient, dominant gaze of the genre, she here paints women at ease in a homely environment without recourse to typical beauty or elegance. Their bodies are large, arranged in a tense formal arrangement expressive of the confidential, conspiratorial mood of the moment. Further, where a reductive vision of women’s relationships once reigned, ambiguity now holds sway: dressed in a navy smock, the woman leaning from the left of the frame is wide-eyed, perhaps anxious; the remaining pair return her gaze, but their expressions are vague, impenetrable.

Indeed, the subtleties underpinning conversation between women was especially fascinating to Woolf, who hoped for a fiction dedicated to:

those unrecorded gestures, those unsaid or half-said words, which form themselves, no more palpably than the shadows of moths on the ceiling, when women are alone, unlit by the capricious and coloured light of the other sex.

Bell’s vibrant signature palette and sensitivity to intersubjectivity illuminated her female subjects their idiosyncratic gestures, their affinities and affronts long before Woolf made these demands of her own medium. Woolf and Bell’s tireless efforts to complicate the representation of women in their chosen forms is especially pertinent today, International Women’s Day.

Lyric Charm and Quiet Wit

The Angelica Garnett Gift never fails to surprise with its traces of Charlestonian foreign travel. Amongst a scattered geography of postcards, sketchbooks and letter paper, we have followed Bell and Grant from the winding backstreets of St. Tropez to sites of classical antiquity in Greece. This week the tokens of travel are a pair of vibrant landscapes from Duncan Grant’s 1975 visit to Tangier.

 

Tangier 1

CHA/P/2594. Duncan Grant, Recto. Tangier Landscape. Oil pastel on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

At 91 Grant remained a keen traveller, so on 17th October 1975 he took a late flight from Heathrow to Tangier with companion Paul Roche. Grant planned on passing a tranquil few weeks painting at El Farah, the home of friend Rex Nan Kivell, a former hotel three miles outside of Tangier with which Grant was by now familiar, having stayed twice before in the late sixties. Due to Grant’s reduced mobility, the pair slept downstairs in a room with magnificent views of the town, surrounding countryside, and distant glimpses of the sea. Yet Grant delighted most in his immediate environs, as Paul Roche recalls:

‘He was enchanted by the cacti, the hibiscus, the bananas and the heavily scented long ivory funnels of datura.’

However, disaster soon struck: as a result of damp and cold evenings in El Farah, Grant soon contracted pneumonia. A brief and pleasant holiday became a lengthy mission to stabilise Grant’s health, with he and Roche finally leaving on his full recovery seven months later.

Once the worst of Grant’s illness had passed, Roche recalls idyllic days of drawing and dining, paying visits to the local artistic elite (such as Paul Bowles and Marguerite McBey) alongside hours devoted to their creative projects. Remembering Grant’s aesthetic during this period, Roche remarks:

‘Unable to command the solidarity of a portrait or a still-life anymore, Duncan had let loose his lyric charm and quiet wit.’

These Tangier landscapes are certainly instances of such ‘lyric charm’, rendering local flora and fauna in astonishingly bright blues and purples, executed with an abstraction closer to the experiments of his youth. Like many of the pieces from his time in Tangier, one can imagine these works completed at the large circular table of Grant’s make-shift studio, with Roche reading on an adjacent divan, or cycling into town to purchase their lunch.

tangier 2

CHA/P/2595. Duncan Grant, Recto. Tangier Landscape. Oil pastel on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Their preservation in the gift is itself a stroke of luck. Thanks to months of roaring hot fires (in a desperate attempt to buoy Grant’s strength) El Farah’s sumptuous interiors were almost entirely ruined by smoke, soot and ash. This is not to mention Grant’s rather puckish approach to the villa’s soft furnishing. While a  tablecloth cut into fanciful patterns could be easily concealed, Grant’s other transgressions were more obvious: the grey velvet upholstery of an armchair was refashioned into a  dashing Post-Impressionist design, if somewhat frustratingly for Kivell with the use of a black permanent marker. As a result, Roche was eager to offer Grant’s works as recompense; yet Kivell was sympathetic to the pair’s plight, gratefully receiving only a small watercolour of an orange.

The remaining pieces we can only assume returned home with Grant and Roche, after a long internment in the ad-hoc home they created out in Morocco.

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