Duncan Grant was a central figure in the circle of artist and writers known as The Bloomsbury Group, which included Grant’s cousin Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry, Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s sister the painter Vanessa Bell and Vanessa’s husband the critic Clive Bell.
Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell were closely associated in their professional and personal lives for more than fifty years.
The garden depicted above was part of the estate at Charleston, a remote farmhouse at the foot of Firle Beacon in Sussex where Grant lived and worked with Vanessa Bell from 1916 until his death. Under previous owners the garden had been used for growing fruit and vegetables; under the direction of Grant and Bell, it was transformed into the very archetype of a delightfully disordered English cottage garden.
Jacky Klein writes:
Certainly the wider world is not alluded to in Garden Path in Spring, where the intimacy of the domestic garden setting is intensified by the crowded composition. Blocking out the views beyond and even the sky above, the voluminous trees and plants fill the entire canvas, while blossoming branches sweep inwards to form a protective shade. The extent to which Grant’s vision in the early 1940s was of an inward-looking, enclosed world is most apparent when the Charleston paintings are compared with his earlier, European, landscapes.
As a retreat from war the garden at Charleston was an anomaly. Under the government’s ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign between 1939 and 1945, six and a half million acres of countryside had been ploughed up and transformed into productive, utilitarian allotments. Haphazard and superfluous, Grant’s flower garden was a rare luxury, and in some senses a rejection of the nationalistic language of wartime self-sufficiency, in line with his earlier pacifist response to the First World War. The detached, carefree and luxurious world of Charleston, enjoyed by its inhabitants and visitors, was to appear increasingly out of tune with modern British life, and in the post-war era of austerity and rationing Grant suffered a decline in his reputation.
Duncan Grant’s bedroom at Charleston, with an east view over the pond.