With leading members of the Bloomsbury Group enjoying some increased curatorial and commercial interest of late, works by Duncan Grant (1885-1978) have posted significant sums at auction over the last six months.
Back in November a major record for the artist came at Bonhams when a painting depicting fellow Bloomsbury artist and one-time lover Vanessa Bell sold for £260,000 – equally a record for any Bloomsbury Group picture.
Although few pictures by Grant get anywhere close to this kind of level, a number of notable prices since then have been recorded a bit further down the scale.
Grant had a long career and his works span 75 years. His prolific output, which includes paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, ceramics and photography, and ranges in subject from subtle still-lifes to homo-erotic scenes, means plenty of supply is available.
Along with the fact that his work went through various phases which varied quite widely in terms of innovative quality, this ensures that the price range for his pictures is considerable.
Paintings can start from just £500-700 and go up to strong six-figure sums, while works on paper can be bought for even less.
While most collectors prefer Grant’s early works from the 1910s-30s and regard his Post-Impressionist pictures – which were inspired by Roger Fry’s exhibitions – to be his most inventive, others maintain an interest in his later work. They believe that his good technique and acute eye for composition and colour (informed over many years by his love of Byzantine art) never faltered.
Later period works
Two pictures from his later period emerged at Lawrences (25% buyer’s premium) of Crewkerne on April 19 and both made good sums for works of this date.
Consigned from different sources, the first came from a deceased estate in London and depicted a man in boxing shorts.
Dated to c.1954, it had provenance to Paul Roche (Grant’s lover who may well have been the sitter). It had been offered at Christie’s from his collection in 1984 where it was seemingly unsold against a £800-1200 estimate.
The 2ft 7in x 21½in (80 x 55cm) oil on paper laid on Masonite was in generally good condition although it had an unfortunate crease across the picture that ran through the sitter’s head.
Lawrences picture specialist Richard Kay told ATG: “Its combination of vigorous brushwork and the alluring appeal of the Paul Roche provenance certainly attracted interest.
“Grant’s male figures, especially when barely clothed, seem to attract keener enquiries. This is a strong composition but with a very characteristic Grant palette and technique. Crucially, like all good portraiture, it embodies its era well.”
The presale interest duly translated into bidding. Estimated at £3000-4000, it sold at £21,000 to a private West Country collector.
The other work by Grant was a portrait of Lindy Guinness, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava (1941-2020), seated on a divan and reading a book.
The 23 x 18¾in (58 x 48cm) oil on Masonite, c.1965, came from a private collection in Somerset.
Having appeared at auction four times since 1985, it was not the freshest work to appear on the market. It had twice been offered at Whyte’s in Dublin, being unsold in 2008 and then making €3800 (£3325) in 2017.
The picture came with a handwritten note from the aristocratic sitter, herself was an artist and conservationist, dated 1998. It identified the subject as ‘a portrait of me and I can remember him painting it in London in the 60’s’.
With a relaxed and informal air, as well as displaying Grant’s trademark colourful brushwork, it again had a sense of capturing the time in which it painted – not least thanks to the clothing, the hairstyle and the palette all evoking the 1960s.
With the Bloomsbury market having moved on since its last auction appearance six year ago, here it was estimated at £6000-8000 and, on the day, a bid of £16,000 was required to secure it. It sold to a dealer in the north of England.
“Obviously, the prices were a pleasant surprise for us and for our vendors too”, said Kay, “but also too for some of the people who had left commission bids which were far exceeded by the eager activity online.
“Although we have not offered many Grants in recent sales here, we are aware that demand among collectors for certain eras and themes from the Bloomsbury Group seems to be increasing.”
Meanwhile, showing good demand for a different Grant subject, an even higher sum came among the five Bloomsbury School works that emerged at Chilcotts (21% buyer’s premium) on March 25.
The works had been acquired by a lady who lived about eight miles from the Honiton, Devon, saleroom and they were consigned by her children following her death (Chilcotts carried out a probate valuation of the collection in July 2022).
A keen art collector, she and her husband had become friends with the owner of the Lewes Gallery who sold Grant’s work and who introduced them to the artist himself. A year after Grant’s death, she became a ‘friend’ of Charleston House having attended the first open day at the property organised by the artist’s daughter, Angelica Garnett.
The work in question was a classic still-life of apples in a compote dish with a tea pot, cup and saucer on a lacquer tray and it was top seller at the auction by some distance. The couple had bought it in 1977 from the John Gage Gallery and it had remained in their home ever since.
The 17¼in x 22¾in (44 x 58cm) oil on canvas was signed indistinctly dated to the lower right but it appeared to read  28. In any case, the style and composition seemed to imply an attractive 1920s date. Added to the market freshness and desirable subject, this helped it to easily surpass the £10,000-12,000 estimate and it was knocked down at £42,000, the highest price for the artist at a UK auction outside London.
Two other pictures by Grant from the same consignment also sold in Honiton. They each sold to a different buyer: one going to a private buyer who purchased it as a gift to his wife; one purchased by collector buying for their home and another selling to the trade.
The two other Grants were both landscapes. The Farm Lane, a 2ft 1in x 21in (64 x 54cm) oil on canvas mounted on board, was signed and dated 52. It had labels on the back for two exhibitions in the 1950s, one at Atkinson Art Gallery in Southport and the other at Leicester Galleries in London. Estimated at £7000-9000, it sold at £20,000, a good sum for a 1950s landscape.
Another landscape of Firle in East Sussex sold at £7800 against the same pitch. It was dated 53 but lacked the path and farm buildings that raised the appeal of the former work.
The other works from the same collection at Chilcotts were a painting of vase on a table by Angelica Garnett (1918-2012) that made a low estimate £500 and a nude by Quentin Bell (1910-96), the son of Bloomsbury stalwarts Clive and Vanessa Bell, which surpassed a £700-900 estimate and was knocked down at £1050.