Duncan Grant met Peter Morris in January 1927 and immediately began an affair with him. This portrait was made shortly after their first meeting. The setting for the painting is probably Grant’s studio at 8 Fitzroy Street, London, which previously belonged to Walter Sickert. According to the Bloomsbury Group scholar Richard Shone, the green wingback chair which Morris sits in belonged to Sickert and was left in the studio upon his departure, along with a similarly upholstered chaise-lounge. Grant and Morris remained intimate friends for the rest of Morris’s life. He later moved away to live in Mexico with his partner, the film actress Vail Morford, where he died in 1967.
Morris was an affluent dilettante. Grant’s biographer Frances Spalding described him as ‘a tall, diffident, wealthy painter’. When Grant met him, he was living at 25 Wilton Street, London, with his sister Dora (later Lady Romilly), with whom he was very close. Grant’s life partner Vanessa Bell later painted Dora after she had married Lord Romilly (c. 1937, Leeds Arts Gallery). Morris was himself an occasional painter and a small landscape oil by him now belongs to Axminster Hospital – his only work in a public collection.
This is Grant’s first painting of Morris. Working from dark to light, the brushwork is fluid and broken. Each surface is modelled with contrasting, sometimes non-naturalistic colours. The right-hand side of the chair is built-up in brushstrokes of orange and green, for instance. Grant made two further paintings, both of which remained in the artist’s possession until his death. The more developed of these two works shows Morris seated in the same, three-quarter-length pose with his hair combed from left to right, as in this work. Such portraits of Grant’s male lovers became a recurring genre through his career, ranging from his paintings of Angus Davidson at Charleston in the 1920s to the numerous, heavily eroticised depictions of Paul Roche.
Paul Roche Parkin Gallery, London At Christie's, London, 7 March 1986, lot 244 Private Collection, UK
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