The scene depicted here is the edge of the farm pond at Charleston, the artist's country home which he shared with Vanessa Bell, her children and, at the time of this painting, with Maynard Keynes. Charleston was a rented house in the middle of a working farm on the Firle Estate, Sussex. In the hammock is Vanessa Bell; her and Grant's daughter Angelica (b. 1918), pulling a toy animal, is to the right; Quentin Bell (b. 1910) rocks the hammock in the foreground, next to his and his brother's tutor, Sebastian Sprott; and Julian Bell (b. 1908) punts on the pond. The house and walled garden are to the right and the Sussex Downs start their ascent on the horizon at the top left. Charleston's agricultural setting is suggested by the horse and cart on the lane and part of the barns at top right.
The painting, which exists in two versions, was made from drawings and small oil sketches of the individual figures and several studies of the landscape. All through his career Grant would alternate more straightforward still lifes, landscapes and portraits with ambitiously planned figurative paintings. In 1918 he finished a large-scale interior with figures of the Charleston dining-room (Ulster Museum, Belfast); in 1920 a small-scale but complex scene of bathers by the pond (Pallant House Gallery, Chichester); the present painting seems to be the third of these post-War works. It is a full-sized version of the painting now in the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. That work received critical acclaim when exhibited in Grant's exhibition at the Independent Gallery, London, in 1923. It was bought by Samuel Courtauld who presented it to the Contemporary Art Society in 1928. It was quickly photographed for inclusion in Roger Fry's book on Grant published by the Hogarth Press in 1924. The present version remained in Grant's estate. An oil on canvas-board study for Vanessa Bell's figure was sold Sotheby's, London, 14 November 1984, lot 75; an oil on board of Sebastian Sprott was with Spink in 1991; and a study of Quentin Bell, oil on board, was shown in the exhibition Duncan Grant, Paintings and Drawings, at the Bloomsbury Workshop, London, 1990. There are no major differences between the Laing painting and this one. Only the repositioning of Angelica has significance for the composition; in the Laing picture her figure crosses over the boundary line of path and pond-side lawn. A painting of 1920 in Tate Britain of the pond without figures seems to have been the model for the setting of The Hammock and shows the same segmented reflections on the surface of the water.
When Grant first moved to Charleston, it was as a refuge from military conscription, to which he conscientiously objected. He worked the land for two years. The cessation of hostilities and the birth of his daughter shortly afterwards began to change his feelings about the beauty and, at that time, relative remoteness of the house, feelings he shared with Vanessa Bell. They continued the lease, along with Keynes, and the house became essential to their lives. The Hammock, with Vanessa Bell as, both visually and pyschologically, the central figure, celebrates the family life Grant enjoyed there. This was no hidebound middle-class family life but an unconventional and experimental one as evolved by Vanessa Bell, the matriarchal pivot and presiding genius of this precarious modus vivendi.