DUNCAN JAMES CORROWR GRANT was a British painter and designer of textiles, pottery, theatre sets and costumes born on this date (d: 1978). He was a member of the Bloomsbury Group..
From c 1899/1900 to 1906 Grant lived with his aunt and uncle, Sir Richard and Lady Strachey and their children. When Grant was younger, he accompanied Lady Strachey to “picture Sunday” which gave him the opportunity to meet with eminent painters. Lady Strachey was able to persuade Grant’s parents that he should be allowed to pursue an education in art. In 1902 Grant was enrolled by his aunt at Westminster School of Art; he attended for the next three years. While at Westminster, Grant was encouraged in his studies by Simon Bussy, a French painter and lifelong friend of Matisse, who went on to marry Dorothy Strachey. Grant was introduced to Vanessa Bell (then Vanessa Stephen) by Pippa Strachey at the Friday Club in the autumn of 1905. From 1906, thanks to a gift of £100 from an aunt, Grant spent a year in Paris studying at the Academie de La Palette, Jacques–Emile Blanche’s school. During this period he visited the Musee du Luxembourg and saw, among other paintings, the Caillebotte bequest of French Impressionists.
In January 1907, and again in the summer of 1908, Grant spent a term at the Slade School of Art. In 1908, Grant painted a portrait of John Maynard Keynes (a gay man), who he had met the previous year, while the two were on holiday in Orkney. A year later, the pair would share rooms on Belgrave Road.
In 1909 Grant visited Michael and Gertrude Stein in Paris and saw their collection that included paintings by, among others, Picasso and Matisse. In the summer, with an introduction from Simon Bussy, Grant visited Matisse himself, then living at Clamart, Paris.
Grant is best known for his painting style, which developed in the wake of French post-impressionist exhibitions mounted in London in 1910. He often worked with, and was influenced by, another member of the group, art critic and artist Roger Fry. As well as painting landscapes and portraits, Fry designed textiles and ceramics.
His father was Bartle Grant, a “poverty-stricken” major in the army, and much of his early childhood was spent in India and Burma . He was a grandson of Sir John Peter Grant, 12th Laird of Rothiemurchus, KCB, GCMG, sometime Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal. Grant was also the first cousin twice removed of John Grant, 13th Earl of Dysart.
Grant’s early affairs were exclusively homosexual. His lovers included his cousin, the writer Lytton Strachey, the future politician Arthur Hobhouse and the economist John Maynard Keynes, who at one time considered Grant the love of his life because of his good looks and the originality of his mind. Through Strachey, Grant became involved in the Bloomsbury Group, where he made many such great friends including Vanessa Bell.
He would eventually live with Vanessa Bell who, though she was a married woman, fell deeply in love with him and, one night, succeeded in seducing him; Bell very much wanted a child by Grant, and she became pregnant in the spring of 1918. Although it is generally assumed that Grant’s sexual relations with Bell ended in the months before Anelica was born (Christmas, 1918), they continued to live together for more than 40 years. During that time, their relationship was mainly domestic and creative; they often painted in the same studio together, praising and critiquing each other’s work.
Living with Vanessa Bell was no impediment to Grant’s relationships with men, either before or after Angelica was born. Angelica grew up believing that Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell was her biological father; she bore his surname and his behavior toward her never indicated otherwise. Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell had formed an open relationship, although she herself apparently never had any further affairs. Duncan, in contrast, had many physical affairs and several serious relationships with other men, most notably David Garnett, who would one day marry Angelica and have four daughters with her, including Amaryllis Garnett. Grant’s love and respect for Bell, however, kept him with her until her death in 1961. Angelica wrote: “(Grant) was a homosexual with bisexual leanings”
In 2020, an extraordinary stash of more than 400 erotic drawings by Duncan Grant that was long thought to have been destroyed came to light, secretly passed down over decades from friend to friend and lover to lover.
In the 1940s and 50s Grant made hundreds of drawings, many of them explicit and often influenced by Greco-Roman traditions as well as contemporary physique magazines.
In May 1959, Grant gave his friend Edward le Bas a folder marked “these drawings are very private”. The mythology in Bloomsbury circles is that the drawings were later destroyed, probably by Le Bas’s sister. That was that until Nathaniel Hepburn, the director of Charleston, the beautiful Sussex farmhouse Grant and Vanessa Bell called home, was contacted with an offer of the drawings.
The offer came from the retired theatre designer Norman Coates, who for years stored the drawings in plastic folders under his bed.
Coates said the drawings were “extraordinary, so in your face. You can’t avoid them. When I’ve occasionally brought them out to show selected friends after dinner, after the initial ‘My God’ exclamation at these very explicit drawings, they mellow … the sexual element really doesn’t dominate.
“It is the painting and the skill of his drawing and the aesthetic of it which negates the sexiness of them. It becomes irrelevant that the subject is what it is … it is a very odd feeling. It just becomes a beautiful collection of pictures.”
Coates was left the drawings by his partner, Mattei Radev, who died in 2009. Radev, a Bloomsbury mainstay who as a younger man had had a secret and tortured affair with E.M. Forster, was left them by Eardley Knollys, who died in 1991.
Knollys, who ran the influential Storran gallery in London and had an affair with Jean Cocteau, was given them by Le Bas, a painter. Le Bas was given them by Grant, a man who the economist John Maynard Keynes briefly thought might be the love of his life.
Hepburn said the drawings were often explicit fantasies but, as a whole, they were something more.
“They are, I think, a body of work that talks of love. Of course at a time they were made, that is a love that was illegal,” he said. “Hewas never able to share the works. How we see them now will be very different.”
For more on the discovery and an interesting video: