Duncan Grant

Duncan Grant

The painter, designer and central figure of the Bloomsbury Group, Duncan James Corrowr Grant, was born in Rothiemurchus, Invernesshire, the only child of Bartle Grant and Ethel McNeil on the 21st January 1885. He spent his early childhood in India and Burma from 1887-1894, where his father was serving as a Major in the VIII Hussars.  After attending Hillbrow Preparatory School in Rugby from 1894-9, he was sent to St Paul’s School London from 1899-1901 while living with his Aunt, Jane Strachey and family at 69 Lancaster Gate, London. Despite his families hope that he should follow his father into the army, Grant took up painting, entering the Westminster School of Art in 1902.  He travelled to Italy in the winter of 1904-5, where he was inspired by the works of Masaccio and Piero della Francesca.  From 1906-7, he trained at La Palette, under Jacques-Emile Blanche in Paris. Upon his return to England, Grant spent two terms at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1907-8 and developed friendships made through his cousins the Stracheys, in particular with Vanessa, Viriginia and Adrian Stephen, which would form his entrance into the Bloomsbury set.

In 1910, with lifelong companion Vanessa Bell (nee Stephen), he began a series of decorative figures for a room at Webb’s Court, Kings College, Cambridge (then occupied by John Maynard Keynes).  Amongst many other decorative projects, Grant designed sets and costumes for theatre productions.  He visited Greece, Turkey, Tunis and Sicily and in the summer of 1911 painted two scenes to decorate the Borough Polytechnic dining hall.  Roger Fry founded the Omega workshops in 1913, which Grant co-directed with Vanessa Bell, producing furniture, pottery and textiles before it closed in 1919. In 1916, in support of his application for recognition as a conscientious objector, Grant joined David Garnett in setting up as fruit farmers in Suffolk, shortly after which Vanessa Bell found the house Charleston, near Firle in Sussex, where Grant spent most of his life.  Angelica, Grant’s daughter by Bell was born at Charleston in December 1918.  Duncan and Vanessa decorated several houses together including Charleston.  He also produced decorations for the RMS Queen Mary, Berwick Church, near Firle in 1943 and a series of panels for the Russell Chantry in Lincoln Cathedral in 1959.  He was appointed Official War Artist in 1940.

Grant exhibited at the New English Arts Club from 1909 and the Friday Club from 1910.  He was a member of the Camden Town Group in 1911 and the London Group in 1919.  His first solo show was held at the Carfax Gallery in 1920.  Grant was represented at the Venice Biennale in 1926 and 1932 and contributed to the second of Roger Fry’s Post-Impressionist exhibitions of 1912.

The work of Duncan Grant is represented in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge, the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford, Bolton Art Gallery, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Charleston, East Sussex, Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, Manchester City Art Gallery, National Museums and Galleries of Wales, National Portrait Gallery, London, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, Princeton University Art Museum, Southampton City Art Gallery, Tate Gallery, London, The Hepworth Wakefield, Victoria & Albert Museum, Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum, the UK Government collection, the British Council.