08 October 2020 08:43
Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption A massive haul of drawings by Bloomsbury Group artist Duncan Grant is finally made public Hundreds of explicit drawings by Duncan Grant, one of Britain's most famous mid-20th Century painters, have been found under a bed. "Everybody thought they had been destroyed," said Darren Clarke, head of collections at Charleston, the Sussex farmhouse where Grant lived and worked. In fact, the collection of mostly male sexual encounters was passed from lover to lover, friend to friend, in secret. The 422 works on paper are "a revelation", Dr Clarke said. it's quite a Karma Sutra of Duncan Grant's sexual imagination".
Grant was a household name in Britain between the wars, as famous for his portraits as his landscapes. A member of the Bloomsbury group of artists, writers and thinkers, he had a child with Vanessa Bell, the sister of writer Virginia Woolf. Grant was born in 1885, seven months before an act was passed in Parliament that criminalised all male homosexual sex in England. Licensed by DACS 2020 Image caption The announcement of the drawings' rediscovery is part of the launch of the BBC #MuseumPassion season "All the works were done in the 1940s and 1950s," a time when homosexuality was still illegal, explained Dr Clarke. "There's a strong theme in the work of interracial sex, of white and black males together.
Duncan Grant had black friends who were models, who were also lovers throughout his life." Dr Clarke said the drawings were "significant" because: "This is the inner life. But Grant also knew how dangerous the works could be. In 1959 he gave them to his friend and fellow artist Edward Le Bas in a folder marked "These drawings are very private". When Le Bas died in 1966, it was widely believed they had been destroyed, even burned, because they were so explicit. "That is the fate of a lot of queer history," said Dr Clarke. However, the truth was they were rescued and eventually passed to theatre designer Norman Coates 11 years ago. "Under my bed," he said. Licensed by DACS 2020 Image caption The works have been given to Charleston, Grant's former home and studio Coates has however now decided the drawings need a wider audience, so has given them to Charleston, Grant's former home and studio in Lewes, East Sussex. "So I just think the time has come, the world has changed, Duncan Grant has been gone a long time." The artist died in 1978 at the age of 93. Image copyright Estate of Duncan Grant. Licensed by DACS 2020 Image caption Self-portrait, c1910, Duncan Grant (1885-1978) "They need to come out of the closet now and be considered and looked at and thought about," Coates added. "They are a serious collection, as interesting as the erotic drawings on Greek vases and Indian erotic drawings." But it does hope the collection will encourage donations when it launches a crowdfunding campaign with The Art Fund next week to raise money to help it reopen - and put these private drawings on public display for the first time. An extraordinary stash of more than 400 erotic drawings by Duncan Grant that was long thought to have been destroyed has come to light, secretly passed down over decades from friend to friend and lover to lover. Grant was a key member of the Bloomsbury group and one of the most celebrated and successful British artists of the mid-20th century. As a gay man he lived the first 82 years of his life as a criminal. In the 1940s and 50s Grant made hundreds of drawings, many of them explicit and often influenced by Greco-Roman traditions as well as contemporary physique magazines. On 2 May 1959, Grant gave his friend Edward le Bas a folder marked "these drawings are very private". The mythology in Bloomsbury circles is that the drawings were later destroyed, probably by Le Bas's sister. That was that until Nathaniel Hepburn, the director of Charleston, the beautiful Sussex farmhouse Grant and Vanessa Bell called home, was contacted with an offer of the drawings. "There haven't been many joyous moments in 2020 for anyone running a cultural organisation, or many people in the world," Hepburn said. "But certainly getting that email, having that phone conversation and then seeing the drawings and realising how important they were going to be … it was certainly a high point of the year." An untitled drawing, influenced by Greco-Roman art. The offer came from the retired theatre designer Norman Coates, who for years stored the drawings in plastic folders under his bed. Coates said the drawings were "extraordinary, so in your face. When I've occasionally brought them out to show selected friends after dinner, after the initial 'My God' exclamation at these very explicit drawings, they mellow … the sexual element really doesn't dominate. Coates was left the drawings by his partner, Mattei Radev, who died in 2009. Radev, a Bloomsbury mainstay who as a younger man had a secret, tortured affair with EM Forster, was left them by Eardley Knollys, who died in 1991. Le Bas was given them by Grant, a man who the economist John Maynard Keynes briefly thought might be the love of his life. Photograph: The Charleston Trust © The Estate of Duncan Grant, licensed by DACS 2020 Hepburn said the drawings were often explicit fantasies but, as a whole, they were something more. "They are, I think, a body of work that talks of love. Of course at a time they were made, that is a love that was illegal," he said. Coates could, of course, have sold the drawings and made a fortune. Hepburn hopes the act of generosity might spur others to help Charleston, which like most historic houses is struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic. Next week it will launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise the remaining sum needed to reopen. The appeal will kick off on 16 October, the 104th anniversary of the date when Grant, his boyfriend David "Bunny" Garnett, and Bell moved to Charleston. Hepburn said at some point the drawings, an important slice of gay history as well as art history, would be exhibited and incorporated into stories told at Charleston, a place that was "an artistic home … but also one of queer celebration and of a group of people imagining life differently".