Hundreds of erotic drawings by Duncan Grant, one of Britain’s most famous mid-20th Century painters, have been rediscovered after being hidden away for 50 years.
Duncan Grant was a household name in Britain between the wars, famous for portraits as well as landscapes paintings. He was a member of the Bloomsbury group of artists, writers and thinkers, and had a child with Vanessa Bell, the sister of writer Virginia Woolf. But he also had a string of male lovers including the economist John Maynard Keynes, and the historian Lytton Strachey who was also his cousin.
The collection of 422 erotic drawings, mostly of male subjects, was long thought to have been destroyed. In fact they had been hidden by a series of friends and lovers, and have now been revealed by theatre designer Norman Coates, who obtained them 11 years ago and had been keeping them under his bed.
“Everybody thought they had been destroyed,” said Dr Darren Clarke, head of collections at Charleston, the Sussex farmhouse where Grant lived and worked. They depict “every conceivable act of couples… it’s quite a Kama Sutra of Duncan Grant’s sexual imagination”.
At the time when the works were created in the 1950s and 1950s, homosexuality was illegal in England. Dr Clarke says the drawings are “significant” because: “This is the inner life. This is his passion. This is what he was interested in.There’s a strong theme in the work of interracial sex, of white and black males together. Duncan Grant had black friends who were models, who were also lovers throughout his life.”
Knowing how dangerous the drawings could be to his reputation, in 1959 Duncan Grant gave them to his friend and fellow artist Edward Le Bas in a folder marked “These drawings are very private”. Le Bas died in 1966 and it was widely assumed that the drawings had been destroyed, while the artist died in 1978 at the age of 93.
Norman Coates has now donated the drawings, said to be worth £2m, to Charleston, Grant’s former home and studio in Lewes, East Sussex. Charleston is currently closed and says it will not sell the drawings, but plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign with The Art Fund to raise money to help it reopen and put the drawings on public display for the first time.