In the late 1940s and early 1950s Duncan Grant's work became richer in colour, more tightly handled and attentive to detail, particularly noticeable in a series of landscapes of the immediate surroundings of Charleston - the farm itself, its fields and the encroaching South Downs. In some of these works he seems to have embraced even more fervently the lessons of Constable and Gainsborough (the two British painters he adored) and the 17th Century Dutch landscapists such as Hobbema and Cuyp. Between 1938 and the end of war in 1945 he was, of course, solely in England, mostly at Charleston. Between 1945 to 1948 he visited Denmark and Northern France. By then his and Vanessa Bell's Mediterranean foothold, La Bergére, in Cassis, had been given up and the world Grant had painted there between the wars seemed unattainable. His affectionate attention was turned on his immediate surroundings.
The series of Charleston landscapes of the 1940s begins, perhaps, with The Hayrick (1940, Tate, London) and continues with, among other paintings, Cowstalls, (1942, Arts Council Collection), Charleston Barn, (1942, British Council Collection), Firle Park (circa 1945-48, Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 14 March 2006, lot 2) and Landscape near Firle (late 1940s, Hove Museum and Art Gallery). The subject matter was by no means new; there is, for example, a 1934 painting in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, which takes a very similar viewpoint to the present work. The magnificent grouping of ancient barn, granary and cowstalls at Charleston was a motif painted by Grant from various viewpoints from circa 1920 - circa 1970. But the paintings of the 1940s have a particular air of hushed remoteness, of a quietly continuing England in troubled times. Grant's vision in these works is, of course, only part of the story: there was ceaseless activity on the farm, with the comings and goings of cowmen and shepherds, livestock and farm machinery. In the war, the skies were alive, night and day, with German and Allied aircraft; Grant himself was in the Home Guard, often firewatching on Firle Beacon.
In the present painting, Grant keeps close to home. Charleston itself is behind the buildings on the left and the farm pond, in front of the house, is glimpsed just above the brown cow on the track. The patchwork of fields at right lies to the north of Charleston and the house in the distance is Swingate Cottage opposite the entrance to Charleston lane.
Although the great barn with its tiled red roof remains, the lower granary was mercilessly demolished in the 1970s by the Firle Estate, causing Grant great distress. He was unusually philosophical about change - especially in London - but the destruction of part of this group of immemorial buildings hit him hard.
We are very grateful to Richard Shone for his assistance in cataloguing lots 1-11, 20-21, 29 and 31.