Grant is a gay hero. Growing up in the Victorian era (born in Scotland
in 1885), in an environment designed to terrorise gay men, Duncan
was gay and proud and out. Of course, he did have exquisite manners
and did not frighten the horses
- the basic requirement of English upper class society. Duncan had
no psychological problems with his homosexuality except initially
the impatience of a virile virgin aching to begin an active sex
life. He heard one could meet homosexuals in London’s National Gallery
& made his first sexual score there, in front of Bronzino's
”Venus and Cupid (I believe at that time saucy Cupid’s openly presented
arse had been over painted with red drapery which has since been
From then on, he was courageous but not imprudent in leading an
open unclosetted gay-life. "Never be ashamed," he said.
Early lovers were undergraduates from Cambridge including his famous
cousin Lytton Strachey and the even more famous economist John Maynard
Keynes. Even late in life, commuting between London and his country
home in Sussex, he was still picking up boys on the train, and taking
them home. Sometimes they were Borstal boys, juveniles who had been
in prison Then his friends would say, "Duncan's gone criminal
again." Some of the boys live on forever fucking in Duncan's
paintings of them. Paul Roche poet and translator of Greek drama,
a great love of Duncan's life, explained Duncan was like a vixen
to young men." English anti-gay laws made Duncan a criminal
all through his 92 years of distinguished life, until his death
In the 1920's and 30's Duncan Grant was perhaps the most famous
British artist in the world. And he was not only an easel painter:
he designed fabrics, china, furniture, interiors, murals in churches,
decors and costumes for theatre and ballet. He occupied a position
socially and artistically like that of David Hockney today. The
Duke of Devonshire recalled him as a delightful companion, with
his charm and good looks and said, "It was very easy to understand
why so many people, men and women, loved him." He was the favourite
painter of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
His reputation is however in abeyance. After his death, a woman
who is heir to his estate has generally refused permission for his
work to be reproduced, thereby leaving it in limbo until the copyrights
expire in about fifty years. There is also a strong indication that
after his death someone entered his studio to indulge in a kind
of orgy of burning of his love letters and homoerotic art.
from the Cross
Duncan was profligate with this generosity, a man who loved to
give pleasure with his mind, body, art, in bed and out. Although
entirely gay in preference, he fornicated with the painter Vanessa
Bell, because she asked him to. He soon excused himself of that
devoir, but they remained life-long friends.
Duncan often gave away his pictures to people who liked them. He
told me a famous art writer stole pictures and also a rich American
ballet impresario, but Duncan was too embarrassed to even reproach
them. He was impressed, in a way, that they wanted the pictures
And surely, as all artists do, Duncan made erotica, for aphrodisiac
delight for himself and his friends. Three examples which escaped
the fury's avenging fire were in the great exhibition "100
Jahre Schwulenbewegung" (100 years of the gay movement) at
the Akademie der Künste (Berlin). They are eloquent evidence against
the thought-police's arguments condemning pornography: there is
no glorification of rape, no infliction of pain, no domination,
no subjugation, no brute force: Duncan was in fact unable to depict
pain even if commissioned. He did have a great wit and sense of
humour, which is clear particularly in his erotic drawings. Paul
Roche, formerly a Roman Catholic priest, asked Duncan for a painting
of the crucifixion. One effort showed a boy standing with his arms
thrown open, as if dancing. Another painting shows a nubile youth
with arms outstretched, floating in front of a stylised, boxy cross,
and sporting an exultant erection. In Duncan's erotica, all is sensual
and consensual, reciprocal, blissful, luxuriously tumescent.
Douglas Blair Tumbaugh
English upper-class expression for being socially acceptable.
Descent from the Cross:
Well, in Renaissance Christian iconography and theology the erection
symbolizes resurrection and life, rising again.
Pas de Trois:
Here Duncan puts cubism or the idea of simultaneously showing different
views to new use: underneath the tangle of bodies he shows a blond
hand masturbating a black penis.
Homage to Cézanne, but instead of apples tempting as Eden's, Duncan's
ravishing colour forms a feast of buttocks here more invitingly
receptive than any other Ganymede's in the history of art. Duncan
Grant would be happy to know that these very special pictures survive
to delight and make him new friends. "Which do you like best?"
he would ask, delighted by your interest.
Douglas Blair Turnbaugh
Douglas Blair Turnbaugh is author of Duncan Grant and
the Bloomsbury Group (1987, ISBN 0 7475 0103 3); Private:
the Erotic Art of Duncan Grant (1989); Strip Show:
Paintings by Patrick Angus, published by Editions Aubrey
Walter (Gay Mens Press), London 1992.
He is also a contributor to Ecrits sur Nijinsky (1992), and
is a member of the Comite Nijinsky and on the Executive Committee
of the Conseil International de la Danse/UNESCO.
Paintings by Duncan Grant and Patrick
Angus are available for purchase from
Mr. Turnbaugh, 2. West 55th Street, New York City