The Charleston Attic

Tag: Modernism

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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Spotlight Lectures: Research in the Attic

Next Thursday we will be presenting our research through public lectures held at Charleston in the historic barns. We will talk about our individual research projects looking in depth at items found in The Angelica Garnett Gift. These talks mark the beginning of the summer season and the house will also be open accessed via guided tour which you can book here. Book a place on our Spotlight lectures here.

Please do come to this free event and talk to us about our projects and the Angelica Garnett Gift. Here are some introductions to our talks:

Vanessa Bell’s Faceless Portraits and The Angelica Garnett Gift

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CHA/P/2586 Recto. Unattributed, painting, seated portrait in yellow, paint and crayon on paper. © The Charleston Trust

The Angelica Garnett Gift exposes the extent to which Bell and Grant sketched, both casually for pleasure and as a mode of thinking through concepts for their work. Sketching – especially in such volume – appears to voice an admission regarding representation itself. Their throwaway, unserious, unfixed quality shrugs before the monumentalising pressure of the portrait. Unsure of itself ontologically and aesthetically, the sketch offered a medium closer to Bell and Grant’s perception of human life. Conditioned by shifts in science, philosophy and psychoanalysis, the British avant-garde began to understand and depict experience as fluid, unstable and marked by a profound alienation.

This paper will argue that the importance afforded to sketching surfaces in the incorporation of its visual vocabulary into Vanessa Bell’s portraits, which are characterized by blurred, featureless faces.

Rebecca Birrell

Dressing Modern Identity: Victorian style re-imagined in The Angelica Garnett Gift

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CHA/P/2454 Recto. Duncan Grant, drawing, Omega hat designs, c.1912. pen on paper. © The Charleston Trust

In her letters as a young woman Vanessa Bell illustrates her stories of sartorial conquests with sketches of the silk coats and dress shapes that hung in her wardrobe. She delighted in purchasing fabrics abroad and went on to suggest dress design as an endeavour for the Omega Workshops. Duncan Grant’s career also shows an active interest in dress through his costume designs for the theatre and in his Omega hat and fan designs. However, the importance of dress is often overlooked in Bloomsbury academia. I seek to illuminate the pervasive presence of dress as a mode of expression in the work and lives of Bell, Grant, and their contemporaries. My argument pivots upon two specific sartorial finds in the Angelica Garnett Gift consisting of two pages of hat designs by Duncan Grant annotated “Omega Hats 1912.c.” and a Vanessa Bell sketchbook that reworks the image of the fan, resulting in a pattern design for a printed fabric in c.1946. Both reinterpret these specifically Victorian styles to make statements about Modern identity through dress.

Zoe Wolstenholme

Living Art

“The Dial” opens its 1924 issue with assurance on the range and rank of work within : “It is the purpose of this folio” the editors declare “to bring together examples of the best and most characteristic work of the leading artists of this time”. Amongst a roll call of more predictable Modernist luminaries, Duncan Grant and Marc Chagall appear side by side: Chagall’s study for “A Pinch of Snuff” (1912) – “It is Written” – features alongside Grant’s 1918 watercolour “Women with Ewer”. While Bonnard, Matisse, Picasso and Derain are accredited contexts to Grant’s work, and therefore unsurprising companions to Grant’s print in the issue, Chagall and Grant are rarely aligned artistically or otherwise. This week in the gift we discovered Chagall’s print from the magazine, interspersed so seamlessly amidst Bell and Grant’s sketches we at first assumed it was a copy.

Although closer inspection revealed the piece to be a highly-wrought facsimile, the artist’s copy – as Walter Benjamin observes – was a precursor to the technological modes of reproduction that were reaching their zenith during Bell and Grant’s career. Titled “Living Art”, this issue of “The Dial” not only evidences the growing popularity of facsimile reproductions, but also gestures to the enlivening potential of the procedure. Where a museum-bound work of art offers a single, static experience, the facsimile enables multiple encounters embedded into the life of the beholder. An artwork glimpsed at an institution may linger in one’s memory, but a facsimile can become a daily means of charging one’s artistic practice with form, flavour and style. Once distantly revered, artworks became accessible, intimate, incorporated into patterns of everyday existence. Therefore, whether consciously or not, the distribution of facsimiles participated in a broader political project Benjamin summarises thus:

“Modern technological reproduction strips […] institutions and their iconic artworks of their aesthetic authority.”

Once the province solely of an elite, reproduction rendered high art common property. Chagall and Grant’s work may have been radically de-mystified by appearing in reproduction, but their relation to each other initially appears tenuous, obscure.

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“A Pinch of Snuff” by Marc Chagall, 1912. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. CHA/P/2585. Recto “It is Written”, watercolour on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Marc Chagall was born in 1887 near the city of Vitbesk (once part of the Russian Empire, now Belarus) to an observant Hasidic Jewish family, a cultural tradition that would come to influence his entire oeuvre. Although undoubtedly distant both culturally and geographically in their upbringings, Chagall, Bell and Grant were all equally enamoured by the Parisian art scene nascent during the first decade of the 20th Century. Chagall arrived in Paris the year Roger Fry introduced a scandalised British public to the French capital’s avant-garde, and only a few years after Grant made his own coming-of-age trip to the city. While Grant worked under Jean-Paul Laurens (admittedly not for long; his aesthetic conservatism impelled Grant elsewhere) and later Jacques Emile Blanche, Chagall befriended the city’s Modernist visionaries, including Guillame Apollinaire, Roger Delaunay, Fernand Leger, Modigliani and Andre Lhote. Despite frequenting very different artistic coteries, Chagall and Grant were both mesmerised by Cubist and Fauvist art. Like Grant, however, Chagall experimented with the tenets of Modernism – dabbling most notably with their rich and unconventional colour palette – while retaining a visual iconography unique to his imaginative world. Indeed, Chagall’s sustained commitment to figurative and narrative art echoes Grant’s return to more traditional themes following a boldly abstract period.

Turning from the plane of abstraction, the pair each developed an idiosyncratic form of Modernism that was, nevertheless, markedly similar at times in tone. Chagall’s quirky motifs ranged from Russian folkloric figures to women in flight, pastel-hued farm animals to eccentrically-strummed musical instruments. Grant, especially in his decorative work, favoured a similarly fantastical range of imagery: nymphs preen upon panels, doors stage tumbling acrobats and a cupboard witnesses a scene of serenading lovers. One is inclined, then, to agree with Vogue who remarked in 1924 that “Mr Duncan Grant has restored fantasy to furniture”. Flirting with a whimsy and sentimentality often anathema to their own avant-garde, both have since been said to possess a curiously literary quality. Chagall, Rainer Metzger suggests, sought “the imaginative strength of the poet”; Grant courted a “free play of connotation and allusion” Christopher Reed places closer to contemporary formalist literature than any concurrent art movement.

However, “It is Written” is not the sort of dreamscape tying Chagall’s aesthetic to Grant’s, but rather an homage to his homeland, particularly the Orthodox lifestyle that so shaped his childhood. Chagall’s otherwise realist image of contemplation is lent a lyricism by an impossibly turquoise-toned Talmudic scholar and the searing yellow of his surroundings. When compared to Grant’s contribution to “The Dial” – the sensual, pastoral “Woman with Ewer” – their differences could not be more pronounced.

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“Woman with Ewer” by Duncan Grant, 1918. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

If not lead to Chagall’s work when allied by “The Dial”, Grant may have returned to this study following his 1966 trip to New York, where he was shown Chagall’s decorations at the Lincoln Opera House, and later his stained glass window at the United Nations building. For Chagall was equally eclectic in his talents: just as Grant worked across mediums, establishing himself as a fine artist unafraid of decorative art or commercial projects, Chagall was a painter, lithographer, etcher, ceramist and designer.

Speculation aside, this unusual find offers a reassuring counterpoint to Modernism’s often troubled relationship to Jewish culture; Grant’s preservation of the facsimile in particular indexes an admiration and respect for Chagall’s striking mediation on Jewish identity.

‘Petals on a wet black bough’

While the various influences, allusions, and subversions of the European art historical canon are quite evident – and exhaustively studied – in Bell and Grant’s aesthetic, this week in the gift we discovered an item gesturing to a source of inspiration far further afield.

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CHA/P/2332 Recto. Japanese landscape study, watercolour on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

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CHA/P/332 Verso, The Miyajima Hotel letterpaper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

A piece of letter paper appears, at least initially, to express little of its guest’s adventures, but reveals overleaf a delicate watercolour of a Japanese landscape; hotel stationary is transformed into a hand-crafted postcard. The faint, mutable nature of watercolour is here keenly expressive of the fleeting, transient quality of foreign travel; the new environment is ecstatically grasped only to be abandoned days later for the familiarities of home soil. Under these circumstances, it is unsurprising that the written word – so fixed in its intentions and implications – was judged an inadequate medium of expression. Deeply responsive not only to the scenery, but to the sensibility of tourism itself, the piece offers a teasingly anonymous snapshot of a stint at the Miyajima Hotel. Curiously, as far as we are aware, neither Bell nor Grant ever travelled to Japan; however, Japanese culture was a point of great fascination for Modernist art and literature.

European elevation and emulation of Japanese work dates to the late 19th Century, when a reopening of trade relations between Europe and Japan triggered an influx of Japanese art into France. French critic Phillipe Burty coined the term ‘Japonisme’ to describe the subsequent impact upon Western fashion, handicrafts, architecture, art and aesthetics. Concurrently across the channel, prominent curator and critic Christopher Dresser argued that an assimilation of Japanese design was essential in generating new forms for British decorative art. Needless to say, Burty’s quaint coinage and Dresser’s undoubtedly sincere enthusiasm conceal a broader trend  towards Western appropriation of Japanese culture recognizable now as Orientalism.

However, Victorian attention to Japanese aesthetics was but a modest, marginal precursor to the avid curiosity of 20th Century avant-garde painters. Eager to revolutionise representational practice, Impressionist painters borrowed heavily from Japanese art. Pierre Bonnard, Edgar Degas and Claude Monet pooled the bright palette of the pleinairist with the ambiguous spatiality and flat colour fields of Japanese ukiyo-e prints. Subsequently, Post-Impressionists also adopted Japanese compositional devices, experimenting with asymmetry, elevated viewpoints, pure colour and compressed space. The 1910 Japan-British exhibition in London notably coincided with Roger Fry’s first Post-Impressionist exhibition; an interaction of the two events surfaces in  references to Japan in Clive Bell’s 1914 aesthetic manifesto Art. One can imagine Roger Fry revelling in the coincidence himself, having applauded the ‘vast mass of new aesthetic experience’ in ‘Oriental’ art. Unsurprising, then, that Japanese poet None Yoguchi recalled his trip to Fry’s Omega Workshop as a revelation of self-recognition. As Christopher Reed explains:

From his Japanese perspective, the Omega looked… well, Japanese. Its folding screens were ‘Japanese style’, its marquetry – indeed its entire aesthetic – reminded Noguchi of home.

Literary culture was equally enamored with Japanese forms. Ezra Pound’s sparse, lustrous Imagist poem ‘In a Station of the Metro’ was thought to have been inspired by an ukiyo-e print glimpsed in the British Library. Woolf may have dismissed Pound’s work as ‘humbug’, but she too shared the Modernist fascination with Japan. Woolf and Bell were friends of Dr. Arthur Waley, an accomplished translator of Chinese and Japanese literature. Alongside  numerous social opportunities for discussing Waley’s specialist knowledge, Woolf publically affirmed her approval of Waley’s pioneering perspective in her 1925 review of his six volume translation of Tale of Genji.

Grant’s interest in Japanese culture is evidenced in his later work (namely, Still Life, The Sharaku Scarf completed in 1972) and in more relaxed studies found in the gift.

japan image 3CHA/P/1805 Duncan Grant, painting, oriental scene, paint on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Grant’s Japanese study adopts the typical flat field of colour; the fluid, blotchy density of green paint follows pockets of light as they yield to murkier opaque shapes. The sunlit and shadowy are thus both accommodated without any shift in palette. Indeed, akin to a mercurial sky, a sense of the provisional hangs over Grant’s experiment in alternative styles. Smudges of paint outside the picture plane vividly visualise a preliminary moment of uncertainty, one so integral to the overall mood of the piece they remain – messy, playful, questing gestures – even on completion. With no formal signature in sight, Grant situates himself in the painting through this flurry of doubting brushstrokes. Yet  familiarity lies close by. The sleeping cat (notably denser, more confidently set upon the page) recalls Duncan Grant’s 1932 painting Opussyquinusque; as we have previously explored on the blog, cats were common subjects for Bell and Grant, The cat can therefore be regarded as a form of anchor, a reminder of Grant’s signature style amidst a visual iconography that threatens to float off into the unknown.

Returning to our tourist’s relic, perhaps the most compelling question is that of authorship.  Who amongst Bell and Grant’s circle of friends took the months-long boat trip to Japan? Various figures float into view, in such a hurry to express their experience – a day of sightseeing the great Torii or the surrounding shrines of Miyajima – they composed upon the nearest canvas at hand: humble hotel stationary. However, try as we might, we found no trace of the Bloomsbury group in Japan. Despite his frequent flights of intellect and imagination, not even Arthur Waley managed the journey in his lifetime. Having unsuccessfully combed the entire Modernist canon for potential artistic tourists – encountering only Leo and Gertrude Stein, decades too early for our investigation – we finally admitted defeat. Our theory suddenly appeared facile. Although we assumed the work represented a personal artefact, it could just as easily have been a second-hand souvenir picked up from a nearby curiosity shop.

Whether received in the post or purchased as an oddity, the painting nevertheless fascinates as a time-capsule of one mysterious tourist’s extraordinary trip.

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