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Duncan Grant was a central figure in the Bloomsbury Group, a liberal band of artists, writers and intellectuals allied through their political ideals, love of fierce intellectual debate and stance on sexual equality. Their artistic theories and experiments dramatically refashioned the landscape of British Modernism.

This monumental summer townscape was painted following one of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell’s many trips to Italy, this time with painter, critic and dealer, Eardley Knollys and artist Edward Le Bas. A highly ambitious composition, Grant has successfully captured the complex viewpoint from an elevated position, most likely a window or balcony. Lucca, a city on the Serchio river in Italy’s Tuscany region, partly derives its character from the Renaissance walls which protect the city’s historic centre.

The two painters repeatedly went on holiday with fellow artist Le Bas, who was clearly taken by Grant and Bell’s bohemian lifestyle. When Le Bas first visited Charleston Farmhouse in 1943, he commented ‘I did enjoy that...

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Duncan Grant was a central figure in the Bloomsbury Group, a liberal band of artists, writers and intellectuals allied through their political ideals, love of fierce intellectual debate and stance on sexual equality. Their artistic theories and experiments dramatically refashioned the landscape of British Modernism.

This monumental summer townscape was painted following one of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell’s many trips to Italy, this time with painter, critic and dealer, Eardley Knollys and artist Edward Le Bas. A highly ambitious composition, Grant has successfully captured the complex viewpoint from an elevated position, most likely a window or balcony. Lucca, a city on the Serchio river in Italy’s Tuscany region, partly derives its character from the Renaissance walls which protect the city’s historic centre.

The two painters repeatedly went on holiday with fellow artist Le Bas, who was clearly taken by Grant and Bell’s bohemian lifestyle. When Le Bas first visited Charleston Farmhouse in 1943, he commented ‘I did enjoy that weekend … you’ve no idea how much: to see again how life can really be lived’.[1] In the years following the Second World War, the trio travelled together to a variety of European destinations including Dieppe in the autumn of 1946, Paris in 1947 and Venice in 1948. In 1949, along with Eardley Knollys, they visited Lucca, Siena and Pisa, Italy.

Grant depicts a small figure, immersed in delicately rendered dappled light, which offers a scale by which to admire the staggering height of Lucca’s historic wall. Grant’s impressionistic brushstrokes here are characteristic of his style at this period in his career. Another landscape overlooking the terracotta rooftops of Lucca, in the collection of Edinburgh College of Art (University of Edinburgh), is comparable in its delicate handling and effervescent treatment of Italian summer sunlight.

In her biography of Duncan Grant, Frances Spalding notes Eardley Knollys’ intriguing observation that ‘Duncan was prepared to put up his easel anywhere, almost without thought as to the choice of motif.’[2] Grant pays homage to the monumental and historic significance of Lucca’s Renaissance wall through the impressive size of the present work. Far from travel-sized, Grant would have painted this on his return from Italy, possibly in his studio at Charleston.

[1] Le Bas, E., quoted in Spaulding, F., (1997) Duncan Grant: A Biography. London: Chatto & Windus Limited, p. 397.

[2] Spaulding, F., (1997) Duncan Grant: A Biography. London: Chatto & Windus Limited, p.407.

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500 Years of British Art