Duncan Grant was born Rothiemurchus, Inverness in Scotland. His childhood was spent in India, he returned to Britain in 1893. His parents had hoped he would follow his father into the army, but instead he took up painting at the encouragement of the French painter, Simon Bussy. Grant enrolled at the Westminster School of Art. He was a frequent visitor to France, meeting Matisse in 1909 and later Picasso. Back in London he established a studio in Fitzroy Square. He became a central figure in the Bloomsbury circle of artists and writers, centred around the home of Vanessa and Clive Bell. The group included Grant’s cousin Lytton Strachey, the economist Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry and Virginia and Leonard Woolf. Virginia was the sister of Vanessa Bell who became Grant’s life-long companion. For a time they both worked at the Omega Workshops founded in 1913 by the two artists with Roger Fry. The workshops produced furniture, textiles and pottery designed by various young artists including Bell and Grant. In 1916 Grant and Bell moved to Charleston, near Firle in Sussex. The house had been purchased by Maynard Keynes so that Grant, as a committed pacifist, could discharge his national service obligations by agricultural work during World War I. Charleston was embellished with decorations by both Grant and Bell, and they carried out other commissions, including the decorations for the church at Berwick, near Firle.

Grant exhibited widely: with the New English Arts Club, the Camden Town Group and the London Group. At the outbreak of World War II he joined the pacifist Artists International Association. 39 of his works were selected for the Venice Biennale but due to war conditions the exhibition was instead shown in London. In 1975 the Tate Gallery mounted an exhibition to mark his 90th birthday, and in 1999 an exhibition overseeing the work of the Bloomsbury circle was shown at Tate Britain. Grant was a prolific artist known equally for his bold and colourful portraits, landscapes and still-lifes as for his decorative schemes, many undertaken with Vanessa Bell.

Further reading:
Simon Watney, The Art of Duncan Grant, John Murray Ltd, London 1990
Frances Spalding, Duncan Grant: a Biography, Chatto & Windus, London 1997