Duncan Grant

Venus and Adonis


On loan

Charleston (Lewes, UK): Duncan Grant: 1920

Duncan Grant 1885–1978
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 635 × 940 mm
frame: 750 × 1052 × 75 mm
Purchased 1972

Display caption

Venus, the most beautiful goddess and the goddess of love, herself fell in love with the huntsman Adonis. Grant uses the myth incidentally, to make a decorative painting from the idea of a female nude gazing after her departing lover, and to make a contrast between the way the old masters designed such a subject and his own more modern drawing of the figures.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Duncan Grant b. 1885

T01514 Venus and Adonis c.1919

Not inscribed.
Canvas, 25 x 37 (63.5 x 94).
Purchased from the Stone Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Grant-in-Aid) 1972.
Coll: Sir Michael Sadler, sold Christie’s, 30 November 1928 (134), bt. Keynes; Lytton Strachey by February 1929; Dora Carrington [Partridge]; Ralph Partridge; Mrs Frances Partridge, sold Sotheby’s, 13 December 1961 (93), bt. Roger Senhouse, sold by his executors, Sotheby’s 12 May 1971 (32, repr.) as ‘Venus Reclining’, bt. Stone Gallery.
Exh: Wm.B.Paterson & Carfax & Co., February 1920 (29); Paul Guillaume Gallery, February–March 1929 (9); Tate Gallery, May–June 1959 (43).
Lit: Roger Fry, ‘Mr. Duncan Grant’s Pictures at Patterson’s Gallery’ [sic], in New Statesman, XIV, 21 February 1920, pp. 586–7.
Repr: Art at Auction 1970–71, p. 134, as ‘Venus Reclining’.

In classical myth, Venus (Aphrodite), the goddess of love and beauty, was turned by the gods into a tree; nine months later the tree burst and Adonis, a mortal famed for his beauty, was born. Aphrodite and Persephone vied to possess him, Adonis preferring Aphrodite. Adonis died of a wound which he received from a boar during the chase.

In notes on T01514 written for the compiler on 5 February 1972, the artist wrote ‘Venus is languishing her lover Adonis having left her.’ An outline of the myth of Venus and Adonis, of which a shortened version is given above, was sent to the artist in June 1972. The artist wrote (10 June 1972) in reply to the ‘question which I think I can easily answer—why I chose to paint Venus and Adonis in 1919. I can remember being faced with the rather mountainous figure of Venus calm and unpreoccupied—in the distance Adonis it appears hunting safely. This was the whole of my inspiration. Had I known all the other facts... it is possible my picture would have been very different.’

A version of T10514 in pencil and watercolour on paper approx 7x9 in., was in the possession of the d’Offay Couper Gallery in 1972. Venus is represented with a degree of anatomical distortion similar to that in T01514; the curtain and distant castle and clouds are also shown, but Adonis and the eiderdown, jug and fruit are omitted. The drawing is inscribed ‘d. Grant. 20.’; the artist told the compiler (conversation. 8 June 1972) that this inscription appeared to him to be contemporary with the drawing and that the drawing was more likely to have been made after than before the painting, though he could not be sure in either case. He did not think T01514 would have taken very long to paint.

Although he painted other mythological subjects around this time, the artist said (conversation, 22 March 1972) he had never seen T01514 as in any way part of a series, and nor (notes, 5 February 1972) was it connected with any decorative work he was doing.

The artist told Richard Shone (conversation, 5 February 1972) that in painting T01514 he had been particularly interested not so much in the subject (interesting though this was to him) as in ‘a rhythm outside the body—while wanting also to give the reality of a body’. Amplifying this in conversation with the compiler (22 March 1972) the artist said that T01514 was ‘not in any way an illustration of the subject, but a rhythm which came out of the subject’.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.

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