Brilliant Exhibition of Paintings by Duncan Grant

Charleston: The Bloomsbury Muse is on at Philip Mould & Co until 10th Nov 2021. It’s easy to get to from the East End – simply rattle along the District Line to Embankment. Then walk up Villiers Street, cross the Stand, fork left past the front of the National Gallery and keep going in the same direction. Philip Mould’s gallery is at 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.

The exhibition is open Monday – Friday: 9:30 am – 6:00 pm. Entry is free, just turn up.

The Bloomsbury Group

After the deaths of her parents Vanessa Bell moved, with family and friends, to 46 Gordon Square in 1904. The Bloomsbury Group grew out of meetings of artists and writers held at No.46. They rejected the dark cluttered houses of their parents generation. They also overdid rejecting Victorian morality. But they would have seen the hypocrisy first-hand.

In 1912 Vanessa Bell and her sister, Virginia Woolf, took a house near Lewes on the South Downs at Asheham. In 1916 Vanessa Bell and husband Clive moved to a farmhouse nearby called Charleston. It became the new Bloomsbury Group HQ. Duncan Grant moved in with them (it’s complicated) and lived there until his death in 1978.

In the 1920s Duncan Grant was a leading British avant-garde artist. The paintings in this exhibition, mostly by Duncan Grant, but including works by Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry, are stunning.

Modern English painting 1910 –

In 1910 Roger Fry organised an exhibition called Manet and the Post-Impressionists at the Grafton Gallery. He brought to London paintings by Van Gough, Gaugin and Cézanne. It caused an earthquake. Post-Impressionism in France was a reaction against Impressionism. In England it meant something different. It meant that the viewer should look at the colours, the colour relationships, shapes, lines, brushstrokes – what was happening on the surface of the canvas. It did not mean German Expressionism, idealism, spirituality, storytelling, or the analysis of what was going on in the artists’ head.

In 1913 Roger Fry opened his Omega Workshops in Fitzroy Square. It was a sort of earlier version of Habitat, and exhibited at The Ideal Home Exhibition. I found a newspaper article from the time describing their Post Impressionist Furniture! The directors of Omega were Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Despite being married with children Vanessa would have relationships with both of them. None of us have enough hours left to live to track the Bloomsbury Group. The Omega workshops were ahead of their time and faded away during WWI.

In 1914 Clive Bell wrote a book called Art with a section setting out his Theory of Significant Form. He said: “Lines and colours combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms, stir our aesthetic emotions.”

Manet and the Post-Impressionists greatly influenced Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and others. Just as Roger Fry had intended.

Go and have a look at what’s hanging on the walls in the exhibition. Philip Mould’s Gallery is very accessible for Londoners. This exhibition is well worth going to see.

We’re not short of books in our house, but I did buy the book of this exhibition.

The book of the exhibition Charleston the Bloomsbury Muse
The book of the exhibition Charleston the Bloomsbury Muse. The portrait on the left is of Angus Davidson painted by Duncan Grant at Charleston in the 1920s.

Alan Tucker

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