Duncan Grant 1885-1978

Duncan Grant was a British painter, decorator, and designer, born into an ancient Scottish family at Rothiemurchus, Inverness (although both his grandmothers were English). His father was an army officer stationed in Burma, and Grant spent most of his early childhood there. He studied at Westminster School of Art, 1902-5, at the Académie de la Palette, Paris, 1906-7, and for six months at the Slade School, 1907. Through the writer Lytton Strachey (his cousin), he became a member of the Bloomsbury Group, and he was also familiar with avant-garde circles in Paris (he met Matisse in 1909 and Picasso soon afterwards). Up to about 1910 his work - which included landscapes, portraits, and still lifes - was fairly sober in form and restrained in colour, but he then underwent a rapid development to become one of the most advanced of British artists in his response to modern French painting (he exhibited at Roger Fry's second Post-Impressionist exhibition, London, 1912). From about 1913 he was also influenced by African sculpture, and he was one of the first British artists to produce completely abstract art; in 1914 he made an Abstract Kinetic Collage Painting, which was meant to be unrolled to the accompaniment of music by J. S. Bach (this is now in the Tate Gallery, London, which has had a film made demonstrating the painting being unrolled in the desired fashion). However, this extreme avant-garde phase was fairly short-lived and he soon reverted to a figurative style. In 1913 he began working for the Omega Workshops, and having discovered a taste and talent for interior decoration, he sought similar commissions when the Workshops closed in 1919. In this field he worked much in collaboration with Vanessa Bell, with whom he lived from 1916 (although Grant was basically homosexual, he enjoyed a long and happy relationship with Bell, who bore him a daughter in 1918).

Grant was at the height of his popularity and esteem in the 1920s and 1930s. 

 

THE OXFORD COMPANION TO WESTERN ART