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A biographical note on Duncan Grant (apropos one of those Facebook challenges that do the rounds occasionally)

A weapons-grade Bloomsburyist, Duncan Grant (1885-1978) spent much of his early childhood in India (natch), where his grandfather had been Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal. He ‘became interested in Japanese prints’ while still at prep school.

After attending St Paul’s, Westminster School of Art and the Slade School – interspersed with stints in Italy and France, of course – he received high-profile commissions to redecorate the Borough Poly dining room, the First Class lounge of Cunard’s RMS Queen Mary (torn out as soon as the directors saw it), and the Russell Chantry of Lincoln Cathedral, where he calmly cast his lover in the role of Jesus.

As a conscientious objector during WWI, Grant took himself off to Suffolk for a spot of fruit-farming (not a euphemism). In WWII, the War Artists’ Advisory Committee hired him to paint St Paul’s Cathedral (small picture of).

Per Bloomsbury, almost anyone who wasn’t directly related to him was having sex with him. This included Vanessa Bell (née Stephen), a woman, with whom he fathered a child and lived, fairly consistently, for more than 40 years. Their progeny, Angelica, later married David Garnett – the former lover of both her father and Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell.

A maid once told Virginia Stephen (later Woolf) “that Mr Grant gets in everywhere.” This famously included the flagship of the Home Fleet, HMS Dreadnought, when Grant, the Stephens, Horace de Vere Cole (I know, I know) et al. dressed up as Abyssinian royalty and were given an escorted tour, complete with marching band.

I’d hoped Grant might have painted Leonard Woolf. But no. So this is his ‘Self Portrait’ (1920).


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