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Artist Duncan Grant's strikingly promiscuous antics


Every now and then, the discovery of a long-hidden treasure in the art world meets with admiration and awe.

But the discovery this week of a collection of works by the late Duncan Grant, a prolific artist and Queen Mother's favorite, drew more breaths than usual.

In part because there were 422 drawings worth at least £ 2 million in a supply, all of which were believed to have been destroyed more than half a century ago. But perhaps more so because they depict extremely explicit scenes from sexual athletics.

“A revelation! A Kama Sutra of Sexual Imagination! “, Described one expert, Dr. Darren Clark, the smorgasbord of bouncing buttocks and rippling muscles.

Grant was played by actor James Norton on the BBC2 television series A Life In Squares. They lived bold, experimental lives and hopped to bed with whoever they wanted

Apart from that, the pictures are extremely important from an artistic point of view. Because Grant was one of the most important painters of the early to mid-20th century, a household name between the wars and just as famous for his portraits – though usually not so – as his post-impressionist landscapes, textiles, and ceramics.

He was also a key member of the Bloomsbury Set, that revealing group of avant-garde artists, writers and intellectuals based in London.

The movement's self-congratulatory members included Virginia and Leonard Woolf, the economist John Maynard Keynes, and the writer E. M. Forster.

The American writer and critic Dorothy Parker once described them as "lived on squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles". In fact, Grant was played by actor James Norton on the BBC2 television series A Life In Squares.

They lived bold, experimental lives and hopped to bed with whoever they wanted. "Dear Darling Dunk" (as his mother called him) was the sexual glue that held them together. the "always charming" common denominator in their endless triangular affairs – male or female.

Every now and then, the discovery of a long-hidden treasure creates a gasp of admiration and awe in the art world. But the discovery this week of a collection of works by the late Duncan Grant, a prolific artist and Queen Mother's favorite, drew more breaths than usual

Every now and then, the discovery of a long-hidden treasure creates a gasp of admiration and awe in the art world. But the discovery this week of a collection of works by the late Duncan Grant, a prolific artist and Queen Mother's favorite, drew more breaths than usual

Raised in India and educated at Westminster School of Art, La Palette in Paris and Slade School of Art in London before meeting Henri Matisse in 1909 and opening his own studio in Fitzroy Square, Grant charmed, soothed and entertained and illuminated that Life of the people around him.

Everyone loved him. Even Picasso – whom he had met as a young man in Paris – mischievously declared that he liked Grant so much that he thought of asking him to be his "wife."

And almost everyone slept with him. His first major conquest when he was 20 was his cousin Lytton Strachey.

Next came Strachey's younger brother James and a third Lytton's former lover, John Maynard Keynes. Lytton apparently gave a "hyena cry of pain" when he found out.

There have been sequential affairs with future politician Arthur Hobhouse, Adrian Stephen, and Adrian's married sister Vanessa Bell, with whom Duncan had an illegitimate daughter Angelica who, at age 21, would become 47-year-old David & # 39; Bunny & # 39; Garnett married without knowing it. He was also one of her father's former lovers.

No wonder these newly discovered images are so impressive – Grant had a lot of experience to fall back on.

On closer inspection, his models seem to have an advantage for Bloomsbury lovers, none of whom can really be described as "eye-catchers" in the traditional sense.

According to Virginia Woolf, Lytton was "tall, awkward, with a tuft of red beard, glasses and a high-pitched voice."

Keynes, meanwhile, was "a dirty seal, a double chin, a protruding red lip, small eyes" who, like cricket scores, recounted his endless pick-ups averaging 60 a year and stable boys, clergy, dukes and soldiers.

Anyway, "the set" was clearly everyone's fun and made sure everyone knew. He spoke loudly, publicly and constantly about "copulation". But you have also constantly created and changed art and literature.

On closer inspection, his models seem to have an advantage for Bloomsbury lovers, none of whom can really be described as "eye-catchers" in the traditional sense

On closer inspection, his models seem to have an advantage for Bloomsbury lovers, none of whom can really be called "eye-catchers" in the traditional sense

“A revelation! A Kama Sutra of Sexual Imagination! “, Described one expert, Dr. Darren Clark, the smorgasbord of bouncing buttocks and rippling muscles

Grant's illustrations have now been given to Charleston - the artist's former home in Lewes, East Sussex

Grant's illustrations have now been given to Charleston – the artist's former home in Lewes, East Sussex

Grant had shown extraordinarily early talent. Though widely admired in London and Paris in the 1920s, he lost his momentum in middle age and retired to Charleston, Vanessa's farmhouse outside Lewes, East Sussex, where she and her husband Clive had a strange menage-a- Trois lived and painted right together on the walls, floors and ceilings.

She was still in love with him after the only sexual encounter that resulted in her daughter in 1918, while he seized every gay opportunity that came his way.

As many lovers as Grant enjoyed, Vanessa was his rock. For over 40 years she took care of all his needs, entertaining his lovers, painting with him during the day and giving him space at night. After she died in 1961, his life dissolved.

Grant stayed in Charleston for 17 years, cared for by a number of nondescript friends who sold his paintings, lived on the profits, and grew cannabis in the walled garden.

His pants were held up with an old tie. When he traveled, he carried brandy in a hip flask made from a Dettol bottle.

But he was a free spirit who didn't care about money, success, or looks – just art.

So he worked and painted every day while the lights were on. He had his last exhibition in 1975 at the age of 90. Not everyone was a fan of their work. A rather unkind critic recently described Duncan's style as "a weak post-impressionist with stones for your fingertips".

Not to be fair that he'd seen this new collection, all pulsating with life and according to Dr. Clarke, Head of Collections in Charleston, is significant because she expresses Grant's lifelong fascination for the joy and beauty of queer sexual encounters.

As solemn as they were, they were extremely explicit and were created in the 1940s and 50s, when homosexuality was still a crime. They couldn't be shared. They shouldn't exist.

Grant stayed in Charleston for 17 years, cared for by a number of nondescript friends who sold his paintings, lived on the profits, and grew cannabis in the walled garden

Grant stayed in Charleston for 17 years, cared for by a number of nondescript friends who sold his paintings, lived on the profits, and grew cannabis in the walled garden

In 1959, Grant gave them to his friend and fellow artist Edward Le Bas in a folder on which he had written: “These drawings are very private.” After Le Bas died in 1966, it was believed that his sister had burned them.

"Everyone thought they were destroyed," said Dr. Clarke. But they have been secretly passed on from lover to lover, friend to friend over the years.

Le Bas gave it to Eardley Knollys, who left it to Mattei Radev, a mainstay of Bloomsbury who had had a secret affair with Forster as a young man.

When Radev died in 2009, he left them to his partner Norman Coates, a theater designer, who kept them in a series of plastic wallets under his bed. "It's pretty appropriate, isn't it?" Norman said in an interview with the BBC this week.

Occasionally he would take them out to show special friends. "Every single person was surprised by them because they are very graphic," he said. "You couldn't have sex in some of these positions, we all agreed – although I think some went home and tried."

He insists that on closer inspection the sexual element wears off and the painting and skill is such that all you see is beauty.

Instead of selling the paintings, pocketing a fortune and making them disappear, Coates gives them to Charleston to make sure everyone can see them. "I think the time has come," he says. "The world has changed."

The Charleston Trust, which had to close during the pandemic, will start a crowdfunding campaign on October 16 to reopen and display the illustrations.

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