The Charleston Attic

Tag: Roger Fry

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

Jug

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.

Rug

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.

Bowl

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

Tureen

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.

Duncan Grant and El Greco

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CHA/P/2612 Recto. Duncan Grant, drawing, study of El Greco’s Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara (c.1600)  Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

The box of loose pages that we are currently working through in the Angelica Garnett Gift has been transporting us to warmer climes over the past few weeks. Last week we stepped inside Grant’s heady Moroccan landscapes, capturing the knotted kaleidoscope of exotic foliage under the vibrant Tangiers sun. This week we follow Grant’s influences to Spain and to the work of El Greco. We have unearthed a Grant study of El Greco’s Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara (c.1600) and thus turn towards the artistic legacy of the continent and the influence of El Greco’s Mannerist style in the Late Renaissance on Grant’s and his contemporaries’ works.

Domenikos Theotokopoulos is better known as “El Greco”, meaning “The Greek”. He was born in 1541 on the island of Crete, then owned by Venice, and travelled to Venice itself to study art under Titian. Here he was influenced by Tintoretto and Bassando before moving on to Rome to study Michelangelo and Raphael. He was also greatly influenced by Byzantine art, having grown up in Crete, and his style can be referred to as Post-Byzantine. By 1577 El Greco had moved to Spain where he would stay for the rest of his life. Duncan Grant’s work has similar influences in both the Renaissance Masters and the Byzantine style.

El Greco The MET

Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara by El Greco, c.1600. Photograph © The MET.

El Greco’s Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara is noted for its original style, much discussed sitter, and relationship to the history of Spain. It is now widely accepted that the sitter is Niño de Guevara and not his successor to the position of Inquisitor General, Cardinal Bernardo de Sandoval y Rojas (1546–1618). The portrait shows Niño de Guevara as a man of power who held an important role in the Spanish Inquisition. Walter Liedke has noted that

“The portrait was probably painted in March and April 1600, when the cardinal (aged about 59) was in Toledo for several weeks. His visit began as part of the king and queen’s formal entry into the city on March 2; a few days later an auto-da-fé was held at which Philip III vowed to protect the Holy Office and forty-six alleged transgressors were assigned unfortunate fates.”

On his visit to Spain in 1936 Duncan Grant made his way via bus from Malaga via Algeciras to Cadiz where he saw an El Greco painting before moving on to Murillo. He spent Easter here. Frances Spalding sets the scene:

“When Holy Week began, its streets filled with elaborate processions in which enormous Madonnas with glass tears and scarlet and gold robes were carried slowly through town accompanied by mournful trumpet music. On Easter Sunday 1936 he stood outside the cathedral and watched as five bishops, all in mitres, said mass while young men holding candles lined the altar steps.”

Grant is quoted saying “[t]hey really were a magnificent sight, rather like a Greco – it would be fun to paint them”. He is clearly inspired both by the traditions of the Catholic Church and the artistic heritage of Spain. However, the painting that Grant had seen in Cadiz, just weeks before the motifs of El Greco came to life before his eyes on Murillo’s cathedral steps, cannot have been Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara as the painting was, by this time, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The painting was sold some time between 1901-1904 to Durand-Ruel, the famous Impressionist art dealer, who then sold it to the Havemeyers in New York. The painting was bequest from the family to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1929. It is possible that Grant could have seen it whilst it was with Durand-Ruel as he did visit him on occasion but perhaps it is more likely that this study was made from a reproduction image, perhaps inspired by his visit to Spain in the 1930s.

Grant’s study is a gestural piece which eliminates background detail to focus on the sitter. It is a dynamic work which captures the posture and presence of the Cardinal in bold graphite, amplifying the chiaroscuro of the piece. Indeed, El Greco’s positioning and distortion of bodies was an inspiration for Cubist artists, working at the same time as Grant. El Greco’s works were cited as an inspiration by various Modern artists from Picasso to Pollock. Roger Fry in particular noted how Cezanne had been inspired by El Greco’s “great discovery of the permeation of every part of the design with a uniform and continuous plastic theme”. Indeed, perhaps this is another aspect of what interested Grant about the artist. His study does not further distort the figure into a Cubist or Abstract style but is a true exercise in copying, perhaps in order to better understand El Greco’s compositional practice.

 

 

‘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.

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

‘This egg changed into a stone monkey’ Duncan Grant, Chinese folk-lore and lithographs

CHA-P-1602-R_CCHA-P-1619-R_C(top) CHA-P-1602, Duncan Grant, colour proof, This Egg Changed into a Stone Monkey, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust (bottom) CHA-P-1619, Duncan Grant, colour proof, Monkey… I hereby promote you to be the Buddha Victorious in Strife, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Now we have moved onto cataloguing larger works we are uncovering many intriguing and beautiful works but what especially caught our eye this week was a collection of original lithographs and colour proofs by Duncan Grant. Up in the Charleston Attic we are used to playing detective and after some research we learnt that this collection of forty pieces are a result of a commission in 1965 by The Folio Society to produce illustrations for its publication of Arthur Waley’s translation of Monkey: a folk-tale of China, more commonly known simply as Monkey. The translation is an abridged version of the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West by We Cheng of the Ming dynasty.

Monkey is widely considered to be one of the four great classical novels in Chinese literature and is based on the true story of a pilgrim named Hsuan Tsang. In the seventh century Hsuan Tsang travelled to India to procure the true Buddhist Holy Books to translate into Chinese, making a great contribution to the development of Buddhism in China. By the tenth century the pilgrimage of Hsuan Tsang had become the subject of fantasy and folk-lore and from the thirteenth century till the present day the story has been constantly presented and re-imagined on the Chinese stage.

The novel takes the tale of Hsuan Tsang and presents it as a combination of folk-lore, allegory, religion, history, anti-bureaucratic satire and pure poetry. At the outset of the novel Buddha seeks a pilgrim who will travel West to India with the hope of retrieving sacred scriptures by which the Chinese people may be enlightened. A young monk called Tripitaka volunteers to undertake the pilgrimage and on his journey he encounters the Monkey King and two monsters in human form named Sandy and Pigsy. The theme of the novel is mans journeying through the difficulties of life with Monkey representing the instability of genius, Pigsy symbolising physical appetite and brute strength while Sandy embodies sincerity. Hatched from a stone egg and given all the secrets of heaven and earth Monkey can transform himself into seventy-two image such as a tree, a beast of prey or an insect and can ride on clouds, travelling 108,000 miles in a single somersault.

Grant produced twelve lithographs for the 1965 publication, with examples of eight of these works in various stages of completion being found in the Angelica Garnett Gift so far. Previously he had been commissioned to design the jacket for the 1942 edition of Monkey. In the cover design he wound the image of the Monkey King around the entire book and at the suggestion of the publisher David Unwin the title details of the book were put at the back, so as to be in keeping with the reverse nature of Chinese literature. The pieces found in the Gift show the various stages of colour proofing Grant would have completed before he was happy with the final image. We see the same image being produced repeatedly with different colours added or taken away. It appears that Grant worked to apply a deliberately Chinese style for some of these works. We know that there were established links between China and the Bloomsbury group. Julian Bell, Vanessa’s son, lived and worked in China, sending Chinese silks, porcelains and ceramics to his mother at Charleston and Roger Fry delivered Slade Lectures on Chinese Art at Cambridge. Some of these ceramics and other objects of Chinese origin remain on display at Charleston today, for example the cast of a sixth century AD Chinese Bihisattva Kuan-Yin, Goddess of Mercy which was given to Grant and Bell by Fry is in the artists former studio.

CHA-P-1609-R_CCHA-P-1606-R_CCHA-P-1605-R_CCHA-P-1760-A_C

(top) CHA-P-1609, Duncan Grant, colour proof, Wild and fearful creatures, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust (second down) CHA-P-1606, Duncan Grant, colour proof, Wild and fearful creatures, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust (third down) CHA-P-1605, Duncan Grant, colour proof, Wild and fearful creatures, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust (bottom) CHA-P-1760, Duncan Grant, colour proof, Dust-jacket for Monkey 1942, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Grant’s and also Vanessa Bell’s enthusiasm for lithography was encouraged by French artist, and friend to the Bloomsbury artists, Pierre Clairin. Professor of Lithography at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Clairin was often Grant and Bell’s host in Paris and had much experience of the procedure of lithography. Examples of his small and delicate colour lithographs can be seen on the walls of Charleston to this day.

Having gained knowledge of lithography in Paris it was closer to home where Grant would find a patron, or patrons, to allow him to develop his interest in producing prints and lithograph illustrations. The Ladies of Miller’s, sisters Frances Byng-Stamper and Caroline Lucas, opened a gallery on the High Street in Lewes in 1941. With a passion for art, literature and music and the support of Maynard Keynes, the chairman for the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), the sisters secured the pick of touring exhibitions and presented shows with sculpture by Rodin, Maillol and Epstein and paintings by Bonnard, Picasso and Derain. Clive Bell was heard to joke that ‘Lewes had become one of the cultural capitals of Europe’ as the sisters began publishing books, instigating lectures, concerts, began a shortly lived art school at which Grant and Bell were teachers and organised a retrospective of the Omega Workshops.

At the end of the war in 1945 the sisters were to receive an exhibition by CEMA of European lithography from 1792 to the present day. To this they added their first publication of a portfolio which contained two lithographs each by one of the Ladies of Miller’s herself, Caroline Lucas, Vanessa Bell, South-African born painter Ensin du Plessis and Duncan Grant. This first publication was an resounding success with the public responding avidly and the one hundred copies of Eight Lithographs which was priced at five pounds being sold within weeks. This positive public reaction led to the Ladies of Miller’s joining forces with the Redfern Gallery in London in 1948 to form the Society of London Painter-Printers. The gallery at that time was under the direction of Rex Nan Kivell and was considered to be the principal outlet for contemporary prints. That year, Six Lithographs by Grant and Bell was published. The lithographs they produced for this work had an undeniable charm, their anecdotal subject matter appealing to the masses with portraits of their grandchildren, still lives of flowers and fruit and images of domestic animals. The working relationship between Grant, Bell and the Ladies of Miller’s continued until the Press was disbanded in 1954. Although Grant accepted occasional invitations to produce lithographs and etchings following Bell’s death in 1961 the most productive years of their collaboration concluded with the dissolving of the Press.

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(top) CHA-P-1603, Duncan Grant, colour proof, She threw down her ball, and it fell exactly on the middle of Ch’ens black gauze hat, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust (second down) CHA-P-1594, Duncan Grant, colour proof, Bodhisattva, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust (third down) CHA-P-1622, Duncan Grant, colour proof, Monkey forgot all about the Star Spirit and soon left him far behind, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust (bottom) CHA-P-1608, Duncan Grant, colour proof, Death of the dragon, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Much has been written about the art and private lives of the Bloomsbury artists yet little attention has of yet been paid to their graphic work. Although it forms only a fraction of their artistic oeuvre, Grant’s Monkey illustrations demonstrate clearly his ability to produce light-hearted, delicate and engaging lithographs. Grant, echoing Roger Fry’s desire to dismantle the barriers between high and applied art, would accept any printing commission that was offered to him, although of course payment for artwork would surely have also been a motivating factor to print. Arthur Waley’s translation of Monkey remains one of the most read English language versions of the novel and one can imagine that Grant’s illustrations have provided delight and entertainment to many throughout the years and hopefully will continue to in years to come.

 

 

‘Greek Love’: Duncan Grant’s male nudes

In an age where relationships between the sexes were severely constrained, the prominent Bloomsberries flouted contemporary conventional styles of living. Consequently they left behind them a legacy of lifestyles far more radical and experimental than that of the recently departed Victorian Age with all its associated puritanism. This newfound attitude to sexuality and the human body is evident in the pencil sketch below by Duncan Grant, from the Angelica Garnett Gift.

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CHA/P/607/38. Sketchbook, Duncan Grant, date unknown, figures, interiors, lists and other writings, pencil on paper, bound in brown card with cloth spine. 19.6 cm x 12.6 cm. © The Charleston Trust.

Certain strands that lie behind the inspiration of such a sketch can be unpicked; Grant was the carrier of a tradition evident in English art and literature and originating in the works of Byron regarding the sanctity of ancient Greece, where ‘homoeroticism was not merely tolerated but celebrated as the highest manifestation of sensual and intellectual bonding between men.’[1] Known to have travelled to such exotic destinations including Greece and Italy during the early 20th century, in a letter written whilst abroad to Lytton Strachey, Grant writes:

‘I often in my journey by the sea longed to get out and live the rest of my life unbeknownst and lost among the beautiful youths I saw playing about in and out of the mirror-like sea with roses trailing on the sands.’[2]

It is this ideal of sensual Mediterranean indulgences that informed much of Grant’s artistic interest and vision in drawing the naked male form,  including works within the Charleston’s collection, such as a male nude swimmer, produced in the Omega Workshops.

Nude swimmer

CHA/F/115. Chest, linen chest, date unknown, painted wood and upholstery, decorated by Duncan Grant in 1917, maker unknown, Charleston, England, 49 cm x 93.5 cm x 42.5 cm.  © The Charleston Trust.

Indeed Clive Bell, writing in 1920 claimed ‘there is something Greek about Grant, the romantic, sensuous Hellenism of the English literary tradition’, [3] whilst Roger Fry commented that Grant’s art had a certain ‘Doric delicacy.’[4]

Inevitably of course, Grant was also influenced by subject matter more close at hand to him back home in England; following the inauguration of George V there was an underlined association between the new monarch’s patronage of sport and the public spectacle of ‘manly’ games. As a result Grant was known to have gained insight into the male form through watching swimming competitions as well as attending football, wrestling and rugby matches.

With varying inspirations, Grant’s nudes, particularly those from the 1950s are frequently considered his best works. Following scholar Simon Watney (1990, p. 69), it is in  such pieces that ‘Grant responded in the most direct and spontaneous way to the sensual pleasures of seeing.’ [5]

[1] Reed, C. (2004).  Bloomsbury Rooms-Modernism, Subculture and Domesticity.  Yale University Press: New Haven and London.

[2] D. Grant to L. Strachey. 16th of June 1907 (personal communication).  British Library.

[3] Bell, C. (1922).  Since Cézanne. London: Chatto and Windus.

[4] Fry, R. (1920).  Mr. Duncan Grant’s Pictures at Patterson’s Gallery. New Statesman.

[5] Watney, S. (1990). The Art of Duncan Grant.  London: John Murray Ltd.

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