This still-life painting was made during Duncan Grant’s experimental period of avant-garde post-impressionism. It differs considerably from the sober, polished manner of still-life painting then being practiced in England by...
This still-life painting was made during Duncan Grant’s experimental period of avant-garde post-impressionism. It differs considerably from the sober, polished manner of still-life painting then being practiced in England by William Nicholson and Frank Brangwyn, for instance, rather suggesting the influence of advanced European painting. In spring 1910, Grant visited the Paris studio of Henri Matisse, whose still-life paintings at the time were distinctive for their bright non-naturalistic colour. All of Matisse’s work was painted from the subject, as was Grant’s, but both artists used colour which bore little resemblance to what they were painting. The predominant colours of bright green, yellow and mauve in Still Life with Compotier and Glass were chosen simply for their striking visual effect.
The painterly effects in Still Life with Compotier and Glass are also redolent of Matisse’s work. The canvas is entirely unpainted in several places, which shows through in gaps between the fruits and at the foot of the glass. The calculated effect of this is to flatten the picture surface and reduce the illusion of depth; the compotier, the table it stands on, and the back wall of the room seem to belong to the same, continuous plane – a compositional effect initially pioneered by Matisse. This effect was further heightened by the use of broken brushwork. In 1911 and 1912, Grant experimented with his so called ‘leopard manner’ in which the canvas or panel surface registers prominently beneath a loosely connected patchwork of broken brushstrokes. A residue of this approach is apparent in Still Life with Compotier and Glass. The scumbling in green and blue brushwork beside the compotier is striking in this respect, with the paint built up in a hatching pattern.
The period between 1911 and 1918 was a period of intensive innovation for Grant. The variety of painting styles exhibited by works of a very similar date makes it difficult to establish a chronology of his output from these years. Nevertheless, a comparison with contemporaneous paintings shows certain unvarying, underlying considerations in his work: high-key tone (especially pink and green), feathered brushwork, and the exposure of the underlying canvas occurs in works like David Garnett in Profile (1915, Private Collection) and Vanessa Bell at Her Easel (1914, Yale Center for British Art). Still Life, Lime Juice (1915, Government Art Collection) (fig. 1) provides a close still-life comparison with Still Life with Compotier and Glass, as does Still Life with Jug (1912, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art).
The compotier depicted here appeared in several other still-life paintings by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. It is present on the dining room table in a large-scale canvas by Grant, Interior (1918, Ulster Museum, Belfast), where Bell is shown painting it in one of her own easel paintings. According to the Bloomsbury Group scholar Richard Shone, ‘the opaline compotier depicted was a favourite object at Charleston. It was given to Duncan Grant by Barbara Bagenal (née Hiles), and is still at the house today.’ (Bagenal existed on the fringes of the Bloomsbury Group, having a brief affair with Clive Bell and briefly camping in a tent on the lawn at Charleston in the summer of 1917, shortly after Vanessa Bell and Grant moved there.)
Still Life with Compotier and Glass was probably executed shortly after Grant and Bell moved into Charleston Farmhouse in October 1916. It is unlikely to have been made before this in 1916, since Grant and his friend David Garnett were compelled to work during daylight hours running a fruit farm in Suffolk through spring and summer. He produced very little work at that time. A terminus ante quem for the work’s execution is provided by the compotier itself, which was in fact a housewarming present for Grant and Bell’s new farmhouse. The apples in the bowl further point to its execution in autumn 1916 or winter 1916-17. A terminus post quem is suggested by the seismic change in Grant’s manner which occurred in 1917-18, when the tone of his work became more sombre, the subject-matter more naturalistic, and the manner of application thicker and more uniform.
The Artist Richard Shone, 1970, gifted by the artist The Mayor Gallery, London Christopher Hull Private Collection, UK, by descent
Please enter your details
Checking your information
Please check your email
We have sent you an email with a link to access this page.