Duncan Grant

Duncan Grant was a British painter, decorator, and designer, who became a central figure in the Bloomsbury Group. Born in 1885, his father was an army officer stationed in Burma and he spent much of his early childhood there. He trained at Westminster School of Art (1902-5), at the Académie de la Palette, Paris (1906-7), and at the Slade School for six months (1907).

Through the writer Lytton Strachey (his cousin), he became a member of the Bloomsbury Group. He was also familiar with avant-garde circles in Paris (he met Matisse in 1909 and Picasso soon afterwards). Up to about 1910 his work – which included landscapes, portraits, and still lifes – was fairly sober in form and restrained in terms of colour, but his style developed rapidly, demonstrating a strong sympathy with modern French painting (he exhibited at Roger Fry’s second Post-Impressionist exhibition, London, 1912).

Grant lived with Vanessa Bell (an artist and sister of the write Virginia Woolf) from 1916, and the two enjoyed a long and productive life together, eventually producing a daughter, Angelica, despite Grant being essentially homosexual. He was, together with Bell, director of the Omega Workshops, a decorative firm founded by Roger Fry, and when the Workshops closed in 1919, he sought similar commissions elsewhere.

He was in his own time, as now, highly regarded, and a retrospective of Grant’s work was held in 1959 at the Tate Gallery, with a subsequent Arts Council tour. He was given a retrospective at Wildenstein & Co., Ltd., London in 1964, a two-person show with Bell at the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, in 1966, an Arts Council tour in 1969, and solo shows at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London, in 1972 and 1975. In 1975, in honour of his ninetieth birthday, exhibitions were held at the Tate Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.