Portrait of Keynes by Duncan Grant, 1917

John Maynard Keynes’ Room: John Maynard Keynes is widely considered to be the founder of modern macroeconomics, and his ideas fundamentally changed governmental economic policies in Britain, Europe and around the world in the mid 20th century. Along with Lytton Strachey and Leonard Woolf, he became a member of Bloomsbury through its emergence from the Cambridge Apostles.

Portrait of Keynes by Duncan Grant (c) The Estate of Duncan Grant courtesy of DACS.

Portrait of Keynes by Duncan Grant (c) The Estate of Duncan Grant courtesy of DACS.

A polymath, Keynes is a man who defies easy categorisation. The same difficulty could be said of his love life, but one particular document gives us some clues to his early leanings. Analytical to the core, from turning 18 in 1901 until the year 1915 Keynes kept a table of his sexual conquests which reveals a considerable appetite for gay relationships. In 1905 he had been vicariously thriving on Lytton Strachey’s letters detailing his love of Duncan Grant. Following the dissolution of the cousins’ sexual relationship, Keynes began a three year affair with Strachey in 1906 (as well as an affair with Lytton’s brother James in the same year).

In a typical Bloomsbury entanglement, Maynard Keynes then began a relationship with Grant in 1908.  Though the love affair was not long lasting, a close relationship followed for the next decade and Grant remains on the Keynes’ list every year until its end in 1915.

Grant and Keynes’ relationship formed one of the most important in their respective lives.  Grant painted a touching portrait in 1908 at Cambridge during the height of their passion, Keynes at work but affectionately meeting the artist’s gaze with a smile.  An Edwardian palette informs the work.

A decade later at Charleston, Grant again focused his gaze on Keynes, producing a sensitive and intimate portrait, temporally coinciding with a maturation in Grant’s post-impressionist style. Painted in the Charleston garden, Grant uses a broader, lighter palette than the earlier work.  Keynes is still at work, this time his eyes fixed downwards concentrating on the matter in hand.

The publication of The Economic Consequences of the Peace in 1919, a left-wing work critical of the punitive measures imposed on Germany post-war, led to considerable renown for Keynes. The work was largely written during his time at Charleston.

Among his friends Keynes was known as an exclusive homosexual, however in 1921 he shocked his friends by falling in love with Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova. The news of their marriage in 1925 was not met with much enthusiasm at Charleston. Following prolonged stays at Charleston, Keynes leased Tilton Cottage just a few hundred yards away.

Fame was cemented by the 1936 treatise The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, which became a sensation and bestseller. In the early 1940’s Keynes, a passionate and tireless advocate of all the arts, became chair of the Committee for Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), which was renamed the Arts Council shortly after Keynes’ death in 1946.

Charleston is grateful for the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Art Fund and the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund in the acquisition of this painting.

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