Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more Property from the Estate of Stephen Keynes, O.B.E., formerly in the collection of John Maynard Keynes and his wife Lydia Lopokova
Duncan Grant (1885-1978)

Gramophone cabinet painted for Maynard Keynes

Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Gramophone cabinet painted for Maynard Keynes
oil on wooden cabinet
36½ x 18 5/8 x 20 in. (92.7 x 47.3 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1926-1928.
Acquired directly from the artist by John Maynard Keynes and Lydia Keynes, and by descent to Stephen Keynes in the 1970s.
R. Mortimer, Duncan Grant, London, 1944, pl. 31.
R. Shone, exhibition catalogue, Duncan Grant, Designer, Liverpool, Arts Council of Great Britain, Bluecoat Gallery, 1980, p. 18, no. 33, illustrated.
S. Watney, The Art of Duncan Grant, London, 1990, pl. 42.
R. Shone, exhibition catalogue, From Omega to Charleston: the art of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, 1910- 1934, London, Piano Nobile, 2018, pp. 84-87, 255, no. 27, illustrated.
Liverpool, Arts Council of Great Britain, Bluecoat Gallery, Duncan Grant, Designer, February 1980, no. 33: this exhibition travelled to Brighton, Brighton Museum, March - April 1980.
London, Piano Nobile, From Omega to Charleston: the art of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, 1910-1934, February - April 2018, no. 27.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Pippa Jacomb
Pippa Jacomb

Lot Essay

Duncan Grant had enormous versatility as an artist and decorator. One of his gifts, most clearly seen in his drawings, was his ability to translate his perceptions into graphic marks with great directness, speed and vitality, and without any attempt to prettify, impress or seduce. Roger Fry, when writing an article on ‘Line as a Means of Expression in Modern Art’ for the Burlington Magazine, in December 1918, identified ‘a tremulous intensity of life and a rhythmic harmony which fascinated by its daring’ in some of Matisse’s drawings. Qualities similar to this often surface in Grant’s art, especially in his decorative work.

It is not surprising, therefore, that when Roger Fry set up the Omega Workshops in 1913, in order to introduce into the decorative arts the new excitement about rhythm, pattern and colour which the Post-Impressionists had introduced, he invited Duncan Grant to be one of three directors, along with himself and Vanessa Bell. Grant fitted in easily, adapting his skills to the needs of any object or in response to another person’s suggestion. When developing his design for table tops and a screen, based on a lily pond and almost entirely dependent on green, orange and black, Fry suggested that Grant should ignore the shapes of the fish and lily leaves and simply pour on the paint, pushing it with the brush into loose, non-descriptive shapes. It became one of Omega’s most successful designs.

With the closure of these Workshops in 1919, it might have seemed that Grant’s outlet for decorative work had ceased. But in 1918 he had decorated, with help from Edward Wolfe, the doors, fireplace and shutters in the first-floor sitting room at 46 Gordon Square, work which Maynard Keynes had commissioned. Then, in the summer of 1920 he and Vanessa Bell were invited to paint eight allegorical figures for Keynes’s sitting-room at Webb Court, King’s College, Cambridge. These filled eight panels down one side wall, but the artists’ decorative concern did not stop there as they advised also on the colour scheme in the room and on the choice of curtains. Two years later, at Christmas time, Grant and Bell created a hand-painted advertisement for their friends, with a list of the following words: ‘Vanessa Bell Duncan Grant Decorations domestic ecclesiastical theatrical 8 Fitzroy Street’. (Few of these cards have survived, but one can be found in the Mortimer Rare Book Room, Neilson Library, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts).

Virginia Woolf may have had this in mind when, prior to her return to Bloomsbury from Richmond in March 1924, she commissioned Bell and Grant to decorate her new sitting-room at 52 Tavistock Square. In some of the wall decorations, the theme of music is suggested by the incorporation of musical instruments into the designs. This was the room where Leonard and Virginia listened to music, by means of radio or gramophone, Leonard keeping a record of what they had heard. When Grant accepted from Maynard Keynes a commission to decorate a gramophone cabinet, music again seemed a logical choice of subject. Previously dated circa 1926, on little or no circumstantial evidence, it is probably nevertheless correct to assume that it was done at Maynard’s request for his wife, the dancer Lydia Lopokova, not long after their marriage. Bloomsbury had been worried by the thought of someone from the theatrical world marrying into their circle. Lydia, a vibrant personality, was also, by her own admission, a Russian chatterbox, and even Grant, who had a strong affection for Lydia, resented her intrusion into some of their conversations. He regarded the marriage as a ‘grim fact’, but nevertheless went along to St Pancras Central Registry Office on 4 August 1925 to act as best man, Maynard having been at one time one of his most intimate friends.

The pattern of life on which the marriage initially depended during term time, meant that while Maynard was in Cambridge, Lydia lived at 46 Gordon Square. They also took a lease on the farmhouse called Tilton, which sits at the foot of the South Downs, at a short distance from Charleston, the Sussex home of Vanesa Bell and Duncan Grant. The Keynes’s three residences make it difficult to ascertain when and where this cabinet first appeared.

Gramophones were still something of a novelty in the 1920s, but in 1927 Lydia was showing off a new gramophone at 46 Gordon Square to her friends. That Christmas Maynard gave one to his parents in Cambridge, which his father, John Neville Keynes, came to enjoy greatly. Another gramophone was acquired soon after, possibly for use at Tilton, as in January 1928, Lydia notes in one letter that a gramophone has arrived and that ‘mahogany is nicer colour than oak and not to be painted yet’. It would seem that the mahogany gramophone cabinet remained unpainted, while the oak one underwent Duncan’s designs and then helped furnish Tilton, as in the memory of Maynard’s nephew Milo, Tilton was ‘a house with many pictures’ and ‘the strangely painted gramophone’ (see M. Keynes (ed.), ‘Maynard and Lydia Keynes’ in Essays on John Maynard Keynes, Cambridge, 1975, p. 1).

Gramophone cabinets proved to be popular stand-alone piece of furniture. The lid lifts up and can be propped open and would have revealed the turntable, while the cupboards below served to store the records. Grant decorated Keynes’s cabinet in a light mode, with two male figures on one side, playing music, on the opposite side, two female singers, and with a child-trumpeter held aloft in the arms of a woman on the back. The front side is necessarily more compartmentalised owing to the divisions created by the top and bottom cupboard doors. Nevertheless, the lyrical mood is sustained by simple motifs of leafs, flowers and another musical instrument, while a gloriously free semi-abstract design covers the lid. Every part is handled with a simple grace, making the cabinet an object of delight. It is hardly surprising that, until now, it has remained in the Keynes family. It arrived at Stephen Keynes’s house in Brinkley in the 1970s and remained there until he died.

We are very grateful to Frances Spalding for preparing this catalogue essay.

We are very grateful to Richard Shone for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

For additional images of this lot, please see www.christies.com.

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