- Duncan Grant
- Woman at a Window
- signed; also signed on the stretcher
- oil on canvas
- 127 by 101.5cm.;50 by 40in.
Crane Kalman Gallery, London, whence purchased by Mr and Mrs Berwin, 1973
Painted circa 1912.
The years 1911-12 saw a radical change in Duncan Grant's work brought about by his exposure to Post-Impressionism and the most recent painting emanating from Paris. From large-scale decorations to smaller still lifes and portraits, his paintings reflect an impetuous bombardment of influences, above all those of Cézanne, Matisse (whose studio he visited in 1911) and Picasso (by 1912). But a substantial number of works show his enthusiasm for a Pointilliste-derived technique (if not a scientific application of the style) in which large touches of paint, rhythmically applied, cover the whole canvas, sometimes approximating mosaic (as in The Queen of Sheba, 1912, Tate), sometimes loosely separate. The present work is probably one of the last paintings in which Grant used this technique, here confined to the yellows, blues and greens of the sky. The figure of the woman is painted in somewhat smoother patches of colour that sometimes abut and sometimes cross over the preliminary black outlines, the hatched effect so produced lending surface animation. The emphatic off-centre vertical of window-frame, tied-back curtain and wall is a device Grant used throughout his career to signify spatial change.
Nothing is known about the inspiration for this painting which, as far as is known, has only once been exhibited and which is unrecorded in Grant's papers. In an inventory made by Vanessa Bell in 1951 of paintings by Grant stored at Charleston, she lists it as German Lady looking at the Alps. This may be purely fanciful but could have some origin in fact. There is a slight possibility that it may derive from someone seen on Grant's travels, on his return to England, for example, from Italy in 1911. But he is not known to have visited the Alps (a region he generally deplored as too sensational) nor had he joined Roger Fry and Clive and Vanessa Bell in 1912 on their visit to Germany (to see the Cologne 'Sonderbund' exhibition). The only other contemporary mention of the work is in a letter of early 1914 from Vanessa Bell to Roger Fry in which she passes on to Fry a list of works that Grant would have available to send to the Whitechapel Art Gallery's exhibition Twentieth Century Art. A Review of Modern Movements (May-June 1914); this includes his 'woman looking at the mountains'. But in the end, it was not sent. The title given here was the one used by Andras Kalman of the Crane Kalman Gallery, London, when he had the work on consignment from Grant in the early 1970s.
A number of Grant's paintings from this period originate in brief on-the-spot sketches or someone or something seen fleetingly - a man holding a greyhound, a prostitute at an upper window, women dancing in Fitzroy Street, revellers at a Post-Impressionist ball. Here, a sunset glow momentarily illuminates the woman's coat as she looks out, presumably at the Alps, across the plain or river valley below, edged by firs at the horizon. There is a faint suggestion about the figure of one of those indomitable, unmarried, well-to-do women as found, for example, in E.M. Forster's early novels and in abundance in Grant's own family. But again, she really may have been German, a guest at the Pension Muller in one of Katherine Mansfield's short stories, rather alarmed, perhaps, to find herself in so Post-Impressionist a world.
We are grateful to Richard Shone for preparing the catalogue note for the present work.