Duncan Grant

Head of Eve


On loan

Artipelag (Stockholm, Sweden): The Bloomsbury Group

Duncan Grant 1885–1978
Oil paint on board
Support: 756 x 635 mm
frame: 829 x 750 x 48 mm
Purchased 1984


Grant appears not to have exhibited Head of Eve when it was newly painted. The first time it was brought to public notice was as an illustration in Roger Fry's 1923 book on the artist. It is most likely a study for the artist's large canvas Adam and Eve. That work, exhibited at the Alpine Club Gallery, London, in 1914, is now lost, and known only from an old photograph (reproduced Shone, pl.79). In the painting, Eve is naked, facing the viewer in a frontal position, with both forearms raised, hands outstretched, and the backs of her hands turned outward. She appears either to have very long hair or to be wearing a veil which is attached to the back of her head and which falls down her back. The pose of Eve in this painting is identical to that of the figure in Head of Eve. In Adam and Eve, Eve stands framed on either side by two decorative trees with long narrow trunks and palm frond-like foliage and appears to hold two palm fronds above her shoulders. In Head of Eve, Eve's truncated forearms and hands also guide two leafy branches towards her body, although here the branches have two small round red fruit-like objects at their ends.

For the art historian Richard Shone, Adam and Eve and Head of Eve reveal Grant's interest in a wide range of stylistic sources: 'borrowings and influences - from the Byzantine, from Picasso, from Persian miniatures, from newspaper photographs and "contemporary" life ... from Matisse, the Bible and the early Italians - are used in an intoxicating shuffle and reshuffle, all equally suitable and suggestive as catalysts to work' (Shone, p.130). The decorative quality of the piece is related to Grant's work in the Omega Workshops, founded in 1913 by Roger Fry. The workshops produced furniture, pottery and textiles designed by various young artists. The short hatched strokes of colour which accentuate the edges of Eve's long neck, her cheeks and her nose in Head of Eve were used by Grant as a form of stylised shading to create volume.

Further reading:
Richard Shone, Bloomsbury Portraits, London 1976, pp.84, 129-30
Judith Collins, The Omega Workshops, London 1983, pp.58, 78, 81
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1988, pp.156-60, reproduced
Simon Watney, The Art of Duncan Grant, London 1990, pp.34-5, reproduced pl.13 in colour

Terry Riggs
January 1998

Display caption

Grant liked to fuse many different stylistic influences in his work, and he was particularly interested in the invigorating example of non-Western art forms. The mask-like face and symmetrical pose of Head of Eve suggests a sensual Eden by drawing on Byzantine mosaics as well as the wooden masks of the African Fang tribe. There is also a more contemporary stylistic debt to Picasso. The simplified form and intense colour lend a sense of commanding immediacy.

Gallery label, February 2010

Catalogue entry

Duncan Grant 1885-1978

T03847 Head of Eve 1913

Oil on board 756 x 635 (29 3/4 x 25)
Not inscribed
Purchased from Anthony d'Offay Gallery (Grant-in- Aid) 1984
Prov: ...; David Garnett by 1923 from whom bt by Anthony d'Offay Gallery 1983
Exh: Painters' Progress, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1950 (8); Duncan Grant: A 90th Birthday Exhibition of Paintings, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, May-June 1975, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, July-Sept. 1975 (12); The Omega Workshops: Alliance and Enmity in English Art 1911-1920, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Jan.-March 1984 (51, repr. in col.)
Lit: Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, 1923, pl.8; Richard Shone, Bloomsbury Portraits, 1976, pp.84 and 129-30; Judith Collins, The Omega Workshops, 1984, p.58; The Omega Workshops: Alliance and Enmity in English Art 1911-1920, exh. cat., Anthony d'Offay Gallery, 1984, p.51, repr.[p.28] (col.); ‘Twentieth-Century Acquisitions at the Tate Gallery', Burlington Magazine, vol.126, Dec. 1984, p.810, repr. p.811; Tate Gallery Report 1984-6, 1986, p.70 repr. (col.)

Grant appears not to have exhibited T03847 when it was newly painted. The first time it was brought to public notice was as an illustration in Roger Fry's 1923 book on the artist. In that book T03847 was entitled ‘Head of "Eve"'; when it was first exhibited in 1950, the catalogue entry gave the title as ‘Head for "Eve"'. The subject matter of ‘Eve' is a constant factor in the two references to T03847 in 1923 and 1950 but the change of preposition in the title, from ‘of' to ‘for', poses an interesting question. It appears that Grant painted a large canvas of ‘Adam and Eve' contemporaneously with T03847. The question reliant upon the choice of preposition is whether T03847 is a study for, or after, the head of Eve in the painting of ‘Adam and Eve'.

The minutes of a meeting of the executive committee of the Contemporary Art Society held on 12 December 1913 record that Clive Bell reported the purchase of a painting by Duncan Grant entitled ‘Adam and Eve'. The Contemporary Art Society appointed buyers to serve on a six months basis and Clive Bell was the buyer for the period July to December 1913. The date of 12 December 1913, therefore, can be seen to provide a terminus ante quem for the ‘Adam and Eve' painting. Although the ‘Adam and Eve' painting was reported as purchased on 12 December 1913, but perhaps not actually completed by that date, it must have been completed by 2 January 1914, when it was included in the second exhibition of the Grafton Group, held at the Alpine Club Gallery, London. The present whereabouts of the painting are unknown, and the work is only known through an old photograph held in Tate Gallery records, which Shone reproduces in his book, Bloomsbury Portraits, pl.79. After purchase by the Contemporary Art Society in 1913, ‘Adam and Eve' came to be stored at the Tate Gallery and it was damaged in the flood at the gallery in January 1928. However, the damage cannot have been too serious since ‘Adam and Eve' was included in the London Group Retrospective Exhibition, which ran from 29 April through May 1928, at the New Burlington Galleries, London. Grant told Richard Shone that he thought the painting of ‘Adam and Eve' measured about seven feet high by about eleven feet wide and that it was basically painted in black, white and ochre. In the ‘Adam and Eve' painting, Eve is seen naked, facing the viewer in a frontal position, with both forearms raised, hands outstretched, and the backs of her hands turned outward. She appears either to have very long hair or to be wearing a veil which is attached to the back of her head and which falls down her back, stopping just above knee level. The pose of Eve is identical in T03847. In ‘Adam and Eve' Eve stands framed on either side by two decorative trees with long narrow trunks and palm frond-like foliage. She appears to draw two palm fronds away from the trees and to hold them above her shoulders. In T03847 Eve's truncated forearms and hands also guide two leafy branches towards her body but the branches in T03847 have two small round red fruit-like objects at their ends. These extra decorative features are not included in the ‘Adam and Eve' painting but echoes of them can be found in the design which Grant painted on to a silk fan when working at Roger Fry's Omega Workshops. This silk fan (Victoria and Albert Museum, repr. Shone 1976, pl.67) bears the design of a female figure with huge muscular forearms raised so that her hands can hold a pair of drop earrings at the sides of her head. The drop earrings are composed of two small circles and look very like the decorative fruit shapes which terminate the branches in T03847, while the raised forearms are an obvious link with T03847 and ‘Adam and Eve'. The silk fan is given a date of c.1913 by Shone, and a completion date of May 1914 by Judith Collins in her Catalogue Raisonné of Omega Workshops Products ( Volume 1 of an unpublished Ph.D. thesis for the University of London, 1988). The May 1914 date is offered as a terminus ante quem date for the painted fan, since it is the date when Omega painted fans were included in an exhibition entitled Twentieth Century Art at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. It was probably painted between the opening of the Omega Workshops in July 1913 and its possible exhibition in May 1914.

Richard Shone believes that a possible source for both the painted silk fan and the ‘Head of Eve', and therefore also the head of Eve in ‘Adam and Eve', could be a small line illustration of a seventh century Lombard enamel brooch, known as the Castellani brooch in the British Museum collections, which was reproduced as figure 2 on page 340 of the September 1913 issue of the Burlington Magazine, as part of an article entitled ‘A Dangerous Archaeological Method - part 1' by Sir Martin Conway. The design on the brooch comprises a female head and neck presented frontally and symmetrically, with large staring eyes, a long thin nose and a small mouth. From either side of the head spring two forms, which curve away from the head and end in small conical shapes, the inner pair of which could be read as a large pair of earrings. Clive Bell subscribed to the Burlington Magazine and the current copy would always have been available at his home at 46 Gordon Square, London, an address frequented by Grant. The September 1913 issue of the magazine also carried two articles by Roger Fry and Grant always made a point of reading what Fry wrote. If this illustration did provide Grant with a measure of inspiration, then it could mean that the painted fan, the ‘Head of Eve' and ‘Adam and Eve' were painted after September 1913. The distinguishing characteristics of the line illustration which could have appealed to Grant are its frontality, its symmetry, and its primitive nature, particularly the intense stare of the female head.

However, there are other possible influences on T03847 and ‘Adam and Eve' beside this Burlington Magazine illustration. As Richard Shone states: ‘Adam and Eve'... belong[s] to a series of paintings where borrowings and influences - from the Byzantine, from Picasso, from Persian miniatures, from newspaper photographs and ‘contemporary' life... from Matisse, the Bible and the early Italians - are used in an intoxicating shuffle and reshuffle, all equally suitable and suggestive as catalysts to work.' (Shone 1976, p.130). In the Daily News and Leader on 7 August 1913, there was an illustrated article on Roger Fry's newly opened Omega Workshops, situated at 33 Fitzroy Square. The article was headed ‘Post-Impressionist Furniture' and carried an illustration of some hand-painted curtains which divided the two Omega Workshops showrooms on the ground floor of 33 Fitzroy Square. The caption to the illustration described the curtains as ‘a pictorial presentment of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden'(p.10). The illustration is reproduced in Shone, pl.63. What appears to be the figure of Eve, distinguished by her cupid-bow mouth and her rather angular breasts, can be found on the left-hand curtain, kneeling before a tree, while the figure of Adam on the right-hand curtain is more difficult to read, since part of his curtain is obscured in the photograph by a painted screen. He appears to be lying on his stomach, propping up his head with his hands, with his lower legs in the air. Although the article did not cite the artist responsible for the hand-painting of these curtains, the figures of Adam and Eve are obviously the work of Grant, since they are very close stylistically and iconographically to his contemporary easel paintings, which include T03847 and ‘Adam and Eve'. The wilful distortion and playful quality of the pose of Adam is characteristic of other work by Grant during the years 1912-14; for example the man holding the whippet in ‘Preparation for Whippets' 1912 (private collection, repr. Shone 1976, pl.51), or the Queen of Sheba in the painting of that name, 1912 (Tate Gallery N03169, repr. Shone 1976, pl.46), or the female swimmer in ‘Design of swimmer for 38 Brunswick Square' 1912 (Courtauld Insititute Galleries, repr. Collins 1984, pl.5). The most obviously distorted pose of them all is that of Adam in ‘Adam and Eve', where Grant paints him upside down, balancing on his hands. Grant would most probably have been given a free hand by Fry to paint whatever he chose on the curtains for the Omega Workshops and it is interesting that, in July or early August 1913, Grant chose the subject of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a subject he was to return to in the large painting of ‘Adam and Eve' and in a truncated version in T03847. The subject of Adam and Eve was taken up by two other painters at this time, both of them close colleagues of Grant. Vanessa Bell painted an Omega design of Adam and Eve (repr. Frances Spalding, Vanessa Bell, 1983, between pp.208-9) and Edward Wadsworth executed a picture entitled ‘Adam and Eve' (present whereabouts unknown) which he showed in the Post-Impressionist and Futurist Exhibition at the Doré Galleries in October 1913.

The most intriguing factor about Eve's pose in both T03847 and ‘Adam and Eve' is the function of her upraised forearms, which appears unexplained by the context in which she is set. Eve does appear to hold branches in both works, but this action may not account for the origin of the pose. From 1912 Grant seems to display a predilection for painting females with one or both forearms raised; examples are his design for the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition poster, Autumn 1912 (repr. Quentin Bell, Bloomsbury, 1968, p.51), the Queen of Sheba in the painting of that name, the female swimmer in ‘Design of swimmer for 38 Brunswick Square', a work of 1918 entitled ‘Juggler and Tightrope Walker'(repr. Shone 1976, pl.122), although in the latter work one of the raised forearms is explained by the holding of a parasol, and ‘Venus and Adonis' c.1919 (Tate Gallery, T01514, repr. Shone 1976, pl.124). The pose of raised forearms can thus be found in the artist's own work leading up to the execution of T03847 and ‘Adam and Eve'. However, three further works by artists that Grant particularly admired can fruitfully be brought into the discussion, on the grounds of their formal similarities.

From October to December 1913, quite possibly the period of execution of T03847 and ‘Adam and Eve', there was an extensive exhibition of the works of William Blake at the Tate Gallery. Grant is known to have been a great admirer of Blake's work. One painting entitled ‘Dancers' of 1917 (private collection, repr. Shone 1976, pl.115, where it is wrongly ascribed to the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum) is directly inspired by a design on page 63 of Blake's illustrations to Edward Young's Night Thoughts. Catalogue number 2 in the 1913 Blake exhibition was the tempera painting of ‘Adam Naming the Beasts', the composition consisting of a half-length nude male figure, frontally posed and with his right forearm raised. This painting has a companion piece of ‘Eve Naming the Birds', which was not shown in the exhibition due to its fragile physical condition, but which is very close in many ways to T03847 (for reproductions of both ‘Adam Naming the Beasts' and ‘Eve Naming the Birds', see William Blake, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, 1978, figs 16 and 17 on p.110). Firstly, Eve is the subject of both; secondly, the sizes of the Blake painting and T03847 are virtually identical; thirdly, Blake depicts Eve naked, half- length, staring out at the viewer, with both forearms raised. The fingers of her right hand tease her waist-length hair, which provides a reason for that arm to be raised. Presumably her left forearm is lifted for the symbolic role of naming the birds. Blake scholars believe the Adam and Eve canvases form part of a set of four works which may all have had a decorative purpose, the other two being ‘Christ Blessing' and ‘The Virgin and Child in Egypt' (for reproductions of these two works, see ibid., p.110). The Virgin is also shown half-length with long hair, with a palm tree to her right and with both forearms and hands raised. Her arms are raised in blessing of the Christ child, who is placed between them. Both the motif of the raised forearms and the inclusion of a palm tree in ‘The Virgin and Child in Egypt' provide links with both T03847 and ‘Adam and Eve'; however, this Blake work was also not shown in the 1913 Tate Gallery exhibition but it was in London at that time, in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Grant by 1913 was a close friend of the brothers Maynard (1883-1946) and Geoffrey (1887-1982) Keynes. Grant and the two Keynes's all lived on different floors of the same house at 38 Brunswick Square, although Maynard Keynes also had rooms in Webbs Court, King's College, Cambridge. Geoffrey Keynes graduated from Cambridge in 1909 with a degree in the Natural Science Tripos, and became a house surgeon in 1910 at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London. His medical career however did not prevent him developing his life-long obsession with the life and works of William Blake, in which he became the greatest authority. Geoffrey Keynes's first publication on Blake was his A Bibliography of William Blake in 1921. Grant's friendship with Geoffrey Keynes must have enlarged his knowledge of Blake's art, possibly drawing his attention to the painting of ‘Eve Naming the Birds' which was hung at Pollok House in Glasgow.

Geoffrey Keynes was not the only person in Grant's immediate circle to show an interest in the work of Blake. Roger Fry, as early as 1904 wrote an article entitled ‘Three Pictures in Tempera by William Blake' (Burlington Magazine, vol.4, March 1904, pp.204-6) in which he described Blake's pictorial language:

The Byzantine style ... was directly and divinely revealed to him...whether this were so, or whether he obtained it ... through illuminated manuscripts, the marvellous fact remains that he did succeed in recovering... that pristine directness and grandeur of expression which puts him beside the great Byzantine designers as the only fit interpreter of Hebrew mythology.

Fry linked Blake with Byzantine art in 1904, but by 1912 he was linking Byzantine art with modern French art, with the Post-Impressionist artists that he included in his Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in October 1912, a show which also included Grant among the young British artists. For Fry, the adjective ‘Byzantine' was one of great praise, implying that the artist so described concentrated upon the formal elements of expressive design; in fact before Fry coined the neologism ‘Post-Impressionist' he had toyed with the term ‘Neo-Byzantine'. Thus, in Fry's aesthetic theories which were of great importance to Grant, Blake, Byzantine art and the recent work of French artists such as Picasso and Matisse were all interlinked in their search for the same goals of expressive design in art. By December 1913 Grant had painted a signboard for the outside of the Omega Workshops with the subject of a ‘Byzantine youth'. For Grant and Fry's interest in things Byzantine at this time, see Collins 1984, pp.64-5.

Modigliani produced numerous drawings of caryatids during 1912-14; nos 525-602 in J. Lanthemann's Modigliani Catalogue Raisonné, 1970, list such works. Numbers 527 and 528, which Lanthemann dates as 1911-12, and which are illustrated on page 295, show a marked similarity to the figure of Eve in Grant's ‘Adam and Eve'. Both Modigliani caryatids are depicted standing upright, posed frontally, naked except for a necklace around waist and neck, and have both arms raised as if to hold up a horizontal device which elides with the top edge of the sheet of paper. Since their supportive function is not overtly spelled out, they appear to raise their arms for no apparent reason. Their breasts are shown as two prominent circles and they have large thighs, very like those of Eve in ‘Adam and Eve'. Again, as with Blake, Grant is known to have liked the work of Modigliani. Grant executed a ‘Caryatid' c.1913 (repr. Duncan Grant and his World exh. cat., Wildenstein Gallery, 1964, [p.4]) which is close both in format and style to caryatids by Modigliani, especially Lanthemann, nos 557 (repr. p.301), 563 (repr. p. 302) and 590 (repr. p.306). The Modigliani caryatid connection is closer with Grant's ‘Adam and Eve' than with T03847 because the former work shows a complete figure and thus T03847 looks like a quotation from the larger painting. It also serves to raise again the interesting question as to whether T03847 is a study for, or after ‘Adam and Eve'.

In his Bloomsbury Portraits, Richard Shone quotes a letter from Grant to his cousin Lytton Strachey dated 6 January 1914 about the ‘Adam and Eve' painting: ‘I have been busy lately with a large picture which I brought to birth with great labour and pain and I see it is likely to be a thankless offspring' (p.129). Since Grant expresses in this letter a sense that he is glad that ‘Adam and Eve' is finished, Shone and the compiler believe that it would be unlikely for him to then produce T03847, unless it was made in a spirit of cathartic energy. Grant was in the habit of producing more than one version of a work; examples are two version of the ‘Lemon Gatherers', one of 1910 (Tate Gallery, N03666, repr. Fry 1923, pl.2) and the second of 1912 (sold Phillips 16 June 1987, lot 63, repr.p.63 in col.); two versions of ‘Dancers', both c.1910-11 (Tate Gallery N06181, repr. Studio, vol.97, March 1929, p.178 and private collection, not repr.); two versions of ‘The Ass', both of 1912 (private collection, repr. Fry 1923, pl.6 and Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, not repr.); and two versions of ‘Interior at Gordon Square', both c.1915 (Tate Gallery T01143, repr. Abstraction: Towards a New Art, Painting 1910-20, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, 1980, p.480 and private collection, not repr.).

There are three works on paper which relate to both T03847 and ‘Adam and Eve': ‘Head of Eve', c.1913 (pen and ink, 178 x 228, 7 x 9, exhibited Duncan Grant, Davis and Long Gallery, New York, April-May 1975, no.5), ‘Eve', a half-length study, 1914 (pen and ink, 220 x 136, 8 5/8 x 5 3/8, collection Anthony d'Offay Gallery); this drawing is executed on the back of a telegram from Roger Fry, dated 2 September 1914 which thus provides a terminus post quem for the drawing ‘Adam and Eve', 1915, (pen and ink, 260 x 205, 10 1/4 x 8 1/8, exhibited Duncan Grant, Sally Hunter and Patrick Seale Fine Art, Nov.-Dec.1984 no.4); this drawing is on the back of a letter from Clive Bell to Mortimer Harley and Co. Ltd dated 22 September 1915, which thus provides a terminus post quem for this latter drawing.

The ‘Head of Eve' drawing is the closest to both T03847 and ‘Adam and Eve' but its exact relationship is unclear. The ‘Eve' drawing is a swiftly executed pen sketch which reduces Eve's head and upper torso to a collection of interlocking curves and crosshatching. The ‘Adam and Eve' drawing depicts Adam and Eve naked, standing side by side holding hands, with Eve's long hair or veil taking the same format as in the ‘Adam and Eve' painting.

The short hatched strokes of colour which accentuate the edges of Eve's long neck, her cheeks and her nose in T03847 indicate one of Grant's favourite ways of creating volume as well as expressive design. Collins (1984, pp.57-8) reveals the source of this motif:

the use of hatched strokes is a hallmark of Duncan Grant's work in the second half of 1913... The painting which is crucial to an understanding of the development of hatching in Grant's work during the latter half of 1913 is Picasso's ‘Nude with Drapery' of summer 1907, now in the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad (repr. Pierre Daix and Joan Rosselet, Picasso: The Cubist Years 1907-1916, 1979, p.208, no.95). Grant became acquainted with this painting and several attendant sketches for it when it was in the collection of Leo and Gertrude Stein, and he later acknowledged its importance to his work. In the ‘Nude with Drapery', both the volume of the figure and the flatter background are given a hatched treatment. Grant could have become acquainted with the ‘Nude with Drapery' and its satellites from the autumn of 1907 when it entered the Stein's collection. However, its effect upon him does not appear to have been immediate, since he did not experiment with the method of hatching until 1913, possibly starting with the curtains and floor covering in his painting ‘The Tub', now in the Tate Gallery [T00723]. ... In ‘The Tub... the hatching acts as a two-dimensional decorative device... In other paintings executed in these same months Grant is also able to use the hatching as a form of stylised shading to enhance a volume, for example in his ‘Head of Eve', ‘Tents' and ‘The Ass' [‘Tents' and ‘The Ass' are both repr. Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, 1923, pl.7 and pl.6]. Since every one of these works was probably executed within Grant's first six months at the Omega, it would seem that the effect upon him there of freedom to experiment released this latent Picasso influence.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.156-60


You might like