Duncan Grant’s still-life paintings of the 1910s are remarkable for their stylistic variety. However, they were not just technically accomplished. The objects in these paintings were often of personal significance to the artist and his friends.
Whether it is true or not, Roger Fry’s two Post-Impressionist exhibitions in 1910 and 1912 are reputed to be the first time a naïve British public saw advanced European painting of the day. Duncan Grant (1885–1978) was an interested visitor to the first and a participant in the second. Important though the exhibition was to Grant’s development, however, his experimental period – between around 1910 and 1918 – pre-dated the first exhibition by several months. Returning from a trip around Tunis and Sicily with Maynard Keynes in spring 1911, Grant called in on Matisse at his studio in Issy-les-Molineaux, just outside Paris, armed with a letter of introduction from Simon Bussy. He later recalled that a version of La Danse and a still life of nasturtiums were present.
Aside from these interesting technicalities, the objects in Grant’s still-life paintings were often of personal significance to the artist and his friends. In Still Life with Compotier and Glass, the fruit dish – a ‘compotier’ or ‘tazza’ – was a housewarming present to Grant and his partner Vanessa Bell. It was given by Barbara Hiles (later Bagenal), a graduate of the Slade School of Fine Art, who visited shortly after they moved into Charleston in October 1916.
Some years later, Bagenal was photographed on a visit to the farmhouse. The image shows her seated with the very fruit dish which she had given some decades before. She was evidently proud of the gift, and pleased to find it was still there after so many years.