Bloomsbury portrait comes home: Duncan Grant’s painting of Vanessa Bell returns to Charleston

portrait of Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant

Duncan Grant (1885-1978), portrait of Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), signed and dated 1915 © The Charleston Trust

 

We are thrilled to announce that a beautiful portrait of Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant has entered Charleston’s collection through the Arts Council’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme, and will be on public display here at their Sussex home in the new year.

The full length portrait of Vanessa Bell was painted by Duncan Grant around 1916. It is a rare example of Grant’s use of collage and demonstrates his skill in using facets of bright, luminous colour to build up the picture surface. The abstract background is reminiscent of designs for Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops and adds a dynamism to the composition. The portrait is oil and collage on wood, possibly a table top or door. 

Grant completed three paintings of Bell wearing an evening dress made of red paisley fabric. In the version in the National Portrait Gallery, London, the pattern of the material and the construction of the dress have been recreated in paint, Grant echoing “the rhythm of the drapery,” emulating its folds and shadows. In a second version Grant introduces sections of the actual material that the dress was made from. The version to be displayed at Charleston recreates the design in paint and collage.

The long and at times intimate relationship between Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant can be charted in the numerous portraits they made of each other. This portrait comes from a particularly important period of that relationship, one that includes the beginning of their sexual relationship, their imminent move to Charleston and the setting up of a domestic and working space together.

The painting is quintessentially a Charleston painting. A portrait of an artist by an artist, of a friend by a friend and of a lover by their lover. Painted during the uncertainty of wartime, quite possibly at Charleston itself, it marks the development of a friendship into a love affair while defining the development of an artist’s individual style.

Nathaniel Hepburn, Director and Chief Executive, The Charleston Trust, said:

“This early portrait of Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant is one of the most beautiful and significant works to enter Charleston’s collection. We are thrilled that it will be on public display for future generations to enjoy and are extremely grateful to the executors of Anne Olivier Bell’s estate, the Arts Council and the Acceptance in Lieu panel for choosing to allocate this wonderful painting to Charleston.”

Arts Minister, Helen Whately, said: 

“Vanessa Bell was an extraordinary artist and a leading figure in one of the most creative groups in Britain during the 20th century. It is great news that, thanks to the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, this important portrait will return to Charleston – a place that was so special to the sitter and artist.”

Edward Harley OBE, Chairman, Acceptance in Lieu Panel said:

“I am delighted to announce the allocation of this portrait by Duncan Grant of his fellow artist and lover, Vanessa Bell. This picture has numerous links to the Bloomsbury group, and it is most appropriate that it has been allocated to Charleston. I hope that this example will encourage others to use the Acceptance in Lieu scheme to continue to enrich public collections in the UK.”

The portrait will go on permanent display at Charleston, initially as part of a wider exhibition programme in February 2020 in the museum’s new galleries, before being hung in Clive Bell’s Library at Charleston. The Library was originally Vanessa Bell’s Bedroom and contains some of the earliest decorations in the house. It became Clive Bell’s Library when he moved to Charleston just before the Second World War.

The portrait was given to Anne Olivier Bell, who was married to Quentin Bell, by the artist in circa 1973.

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