Duncan Grant 1885-1978


Eardley Knollys
Mattei Radev, 1991
The Estate of Mattei Radev, 2009


2016, Bath, Victoria Art Gallery, A Room of Their Own: Lost Bloomsbury Interiors 1914-30, 11 June - 4 Sept. 2016, unnumbered
This table was made by Ducan Grant in the middle years of his life, most likely in the nineteen-fifties. The subject is characteristically whimsical for the period, suggesting the carefree lifestyle that Grant and his milieu cultivated in their Sussex retreat at Charleston Farmhouse. The athletic subject, depicting two suntanned tennis players mid-swing, is comparable to other works by Grant from the period. Two Acrobats (c. 1966, Charleston Trust) (fig. 1), for example, is an oil painting of a man and a woman set in a similarly ethereal landscape. They are depicted in an elaborate mid-air composition, the figures bounding through the air.

Though these balletic tennis players are painted on glazed tiles, there is an easy equivalence between the picture and the decorative objet d’art in Grant’s artistic practice, and the tennis players share the cultured status of an oil painting. In treating the subject of tennis players, Grant paid overt attention to musculature and made the figures vigorous and sensual. His lifelong interest in acrobatics, sport and an erotic treatment of the male figure is clearly in evidence in his depiction of the tennis players. The underlying eroticism of the subject for Grant is underlined by a later drawing of tennis players where the figures were depicted in the nude (fig. 2).

Because Grant made the table in the nineteen-fifties, it is likely that the tiles were fired in Quentin Bell’s kiln at Charleston. Quentin was the son of Vanessa and Clive Bell and lived for much of his life with Vanessa and Duncan at Charleston, setting up a pottery kiln there in 1937. At least three tables of similar construction, with four legs and mitred corners, are in the collections of Charleston Farmhouse and Monk’s House (the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf now managed by the National Trust). Though those tables date from the nineteen-thirties and have tiles that use a markedly different decorative quality, the similar style of carpentry make it plausible that Grant used the same craftsman to make this table.

The table was gifted by Grant to his friend, the socialite Eardley Knollys. Richard Shone, a leading Bloomsbury scholar and a personal friend of both Grant and Knollys, has suggested the table was probably made specifically for Knollys. Knollys had a brief and notable career as an art dealer in London, running the Storran Gallery with his partner Frank Coombs. He later worked with James Lees-Milne at the National Trust when it was a fledgling organisation after the Second World War, and the pair travelled the country convincing noblemen to bequeath their country houses to the Trust. When Knollys passed away in 1991, he left his possessions to Mattei Radev, another friend of Grant’s. Radev himself passed away in 2009 and the table comes from his estate.