Duncan Grant 1885-1978

Provenance

Lord and Lady Rennell of Rodd
Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London, 1985
Private Collection, USA
Private Collection, UK, 2012

Exhibitions

[?]1915, London, Doré Gallery, Vorticist Exhibition
1984 London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, The Omega Workshops Alliance and Enmity in English Art 1911-1920, no. 61.

Literature

Richard Shone, Bloomsbury Portraits (London: Phaidon, 1993) pl. 99.
Born in Scotland, Duncan Grant spent much of his youth in India. Upon returning to Britain in 1893, he took up painting at the Westminster School of Art. He also travelled in Continental Europe, where he studied with Jacques-Émile Blanche, met Matisse and visited Picasso’s studio. Back in London, Grant became a central figure in the Bloomsbury Group. He was a prolific artist, experimenting in textiles, interior decoration, ceramics, murals, illustration and theatre design. Taking inspiration from the Old Masters as well as the modern art he encountered during his travels in Europe, he enjoyed great success. He represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1926 and 1932, and his paintings have been collected by museums across the world. He inspired great affection in those whom he met, as a compassionate, charming, gentle and humorous man. Although he was actively homosexual, his longest union was with Vanessa Bell, with whom he lived, loved and worked for nearly half a century, both in London and in Charleston, their country home in Sussex.

This buoyantly coloured still life was signed and dated quite soon after it was painted (unusual for Grant at this time) and it may well have been one of the three works he showed as an invited exhibitor in the Vorticist exhibition held in June 1915 – two still lifes and one collaged abstract.

It is difficult to say where the work was painted but most likely it was in Grant’s accommodation at 38 Brunswick Square and suggests an improvised lunch for one in his studio, further indicated by the decoration or painting in the background. Grant began to use collage in his easel paintings and in designs for the Omega Workshops in early 1914. Sometimes he used found papers and sometimes painted paper himself, all cut to the necessary shapes; he also used pieces fabric, wood, labels and silver cigarette paper. His most extensive collage is his 'Abstract Kinetic Collage with Sound' of late 1914 (Tate). At first glance the use of collage in this work is hardly apparent but it is in fact quite extensive, particularly in the lustre coffee pot which dominates the composition and supplants the cool white central vacancy found in other still lifes, such as 'The Modelling Stand' (c.1914; Private Collection).

Both Vanessa Bell Bell and Grant show a remarkably early adoption of European avant-garde methods in 1914. Bell’s 'Still Life (Triple Alliance)' of that year is similarly bold in its use of collage but assumes a more political outlook (University of Leeds Art Collection, see exh. cat. Dulwich p.97). Here, Grant paints out the content of his newspaper clippings, prioritising colour and vivacious composition.