George Bergen, ‘The Policeman’ c. 1931

Duncan Grant’s Bedroom: George Bergen was a Russian born painter who moved to the States in his early life. He became closely linked with the Bloomsbury group through relationships with Duncan Grant and later, Grant’s daughter Angelica. This small painting, which is found in Duncan Grant’s bedroom, dates from around 1931, in the middle of their turbulent relationship, and is one of eight works by Bergen in the Charleston collection.

George Bergen, 'The Policeman', circa 1931

George Bergen, ‘The Policeman’, circa 1931

Bergen met Grant in late 1929, and they quickly became close friends, painting together on Hampstead Heath. As Quentin Bell recalls, Bergen was strikingly attractive, ‘To Duncan and to many others George Bergen was an Adonis or perhaps an Apollo: immensely handsome, irresistibly charming, a most gifted painter, a man of wit, perhaps of profundity.’[1]

The friendship rapidly developed into a love affair, and Grant and Bergen spent time privately together at Charleston in 1930. Vanessa Bell at this point was so strongly attached to Grant that she was jealous and uncertain of their relationship. Grant confided to Bunny Garnett of the complications of his feelings, ‘I know perfectly well that George loves me … But why do I get into a state when he is tired and I am tired and therefore think that he has no feeling for me? And why does Nessa not believe that I love her as much as ever I did? … Why does she not realise that my love for George gives me more power to love her instead of less … The truth is I want them both … Only I know that sometimes Nessa suddenly feels that I give something to George that I don’t give to her.’[2]

Bergen made several trips to America, and became less involved with Grant in the mid 1930s, with his poor rate of replying to letters leading to a distance in their relationship. In America he spent a period in California, mixing with film stars and painting their portraits, the most notable of which was of Charlie Chaplin. He returned to American permanently shortly before the second world war, and lived in New York until his death many years later. Grant visited New York in the 1960s with Paul Roche, and Grant rekindled his friendship with Bergen, accepting his hospitality and staying up into the small hours despite his old age.

In 1967, Grant and Bell’s daughter Angelica visited Bergen in New York, and fell in love. At the age of 50, Angelica had once again fallen for one of her father’s former lovers, earlier having married David (Bunny) Garnett. Grant wrote to his daughter, ‘Of course I am deeply interested to hear of your feelings for George. I only hope his complete inability to write letters may not make things difficult for you, because he is sometimes a difficult person to understand as you probably know.’[3]. Angelica went on to live with Bergen for a time, but the relationship was fraught with Bergen’s divided loyalties and was over within a year.

[1]Quentin Bell, Bloomsbury Recalled, New York: Columbia University Press, 1995, p. 65.

[2]Frances Spalding, Duncan Grant: A Biography, London: Chatto & Windus, 1997, p.298.

[3]ibid, p. 460.

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