Sexually explicit drawings by Duncan Grant found under a bed

Lost £2m collection of sexually explicit drawings by Bloomsbury Group artist Duncan Grant featuring gay couples engaged in ‘every conceivable act’ is found under a bed

  • Hundreds of graphic illustrations handed to theatre designer Norman Coates
  • He kept them underneath his bed but many believed they had been destroyed
  • Collection given to Grant’s former home Charleston in Lewes, East Sussex

A vast collection of sexually explicit drawings by Bloomsbury Group artist Duncan Grant featuring couples engaged in ‘every conceivable act’ has been found under a bed. 

The 442 illustrations, which date from the 1940s and 50s, were given by Grant to his friend Edward le Bas in a folder marked ‘These drawings are very private’ in May 1959. 

It was believed the £2million collection had been destroyed by Le Bas’ sister after his death in 1966, but the drawings were instead passed between friends and lovers in secret for 60 years.

Grant’s illustrations largely depicted male sexual encounters, created at a time when homosexuality was illegal in Britain. They were said to ‘express Grant’s lifelong fascination with the joy and beauty of queer sexual encounters.’ 

The 442 illustrations, which date from the 1940s and 50s, were given by artist Duncan Grant to his friend Edward le Bas in a folder marked ‘These drawings are very private’ in May 1959

It was believed the £2million collection had been destroyed by Le Bas’ sister after his death in 1966, but the drawings were instead passed between friends and lovers in secret for 60 years

The collection was handed to theatre designer Norman Coates in 2009, and he opted to keep them underneath his bed, telling the BBC: ‘It’s rather appropriate isn’t it?’ 

He added he would occasionally ‘haul them out’ to show friends, adding: ‘Every single person was startled by them because they’re very graphic.’

Grant was a member of the Bloomsbury Group of artists, writers and intellectuals, and had a daughter, Angelica, with the sister of writer Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell.

He also had several male partners, including economist John Maynard Keynes and writer David Garnett – who went on to marry his daughter.

The artist, who died in 1978 aged 93, was born seven months before the introduction of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which criminalised all male homosexual sex in England regardless of consent. 

Grant’s illustrations largely depicted male sexual encounters, created at a time when homosexuality was illegal in Britain. Pictured: An illustration

The artist had several male partners, including John Maynard Keynes (pictured together) and writer David Garnett – who went on to marry his daughter

Grant (pictured) was a member of the Bloomsbury Group of artists, writers and intellectuals, and had a daughter, Angelica, with the sister of writer Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell

The Act, which was used to convict playwright and poet Oscar Wilde, remained in place until the Sexual Offences Act was passed in 1967.  

It was for this reason that Grant likely kept the graphic illustrations private.

Darren Clarke, head of collections at Charleston, said: ‘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.’

He added experts long believed the illustrations had been destroyed, adding: ‘That is the fate of a lot of queer history. Relatives have destroyed it to protect the reputations of the person who has died or the family as a whole.’ 

Grant’s illustrations have now been given to Charleston – the artist’s former home in Lewes, East Sussex

The collection was handed to theatre designer Norman Coates in 2009, and he opted to keep them underneath his bed

Grant, who spent much of his childhood in India, returned to Britain in 1893 before entering the Westminster School of Art in London at the encouragement of French painter Simon Bussy. 

He later attended Jacques-Emile Blanche’s school, La Palette, in Paris and the Slade School of Art in London, before meeting Henri Matisse in 1909 and setting up his own studio in Fitzroy Square.

The artist was a significant figure in the Bloomsbury Group alongside English writer Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry, and Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

Grant’s illustrations have now been given to Charleston – the artist’s former home in Lewes, East Sussex.  

The Charleston Trust, which has closed to visitors amid the Covid-19 pandemic, will launch a crowdfunding campaign on October 16 in the hope it will be able to reopen and display the private illustrations.      

Bloomsbury mainstay who counted John Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf’s sister among his lovers 

Artist Duncan Grant, now famed for his innovative Post-Impressionist paintings, was born in Inverness, Scotland in 1885.

Grant, who spent much of his childhood in India, returned to Britain in 1893 before entering the Westminster School of Art in London at the encouragement of French painter Simon Bussy.

He later attended Jacques-Emile Blanche’s school, La Palette, in Paris and the Slade School of Art in London, before meeting Henri Matisse in 1909 and setting up his own studio in Fitzroy Square. 

The artist was introduced to the Bloomsbury Group through his cousin Lytton Strachey, after which he became well known for his artistic representations of figures, still life, and landscapes. 

Grant (seen in 1955), who spent much of his childhood in India, returned to Britain in 1893 before entering the Westminster School of Art in London at the encouragement of French painter Simon Bussy

Grant later joined the Camden Group in 1911 before contributing to the Post-Impressionist exhibition of 1912 which was organised by art critic Roger Fry.  

He was also involved in Fry’s Omega Workshops until 1919.

The artist had a number of homosexual love affairs in his early life, including relationships with Lytton Strachey, economist John Maynard Keynes and author Adrian Stephen. 

He continued to take male lovers throughout his life, and was once described by his daughter as ‘a homosexual with bisexual leanings’.

However, his longest relationship was with designer Vanessa Bell, the sister of Virginia Woolf, who he lived and worked with from 1914 until her death in 1961.

The pair welcomed a daughter, Angelica, in 1918. 

It is believed Grant and Bell did not have an intimate relationship following the birth of Angelica, who grew up believing her mother’s husband art critic Clive Bell was her father.   

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