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A Monthly Culture Matrix For the Cosmopolitan Traveler

Very Private?

Charleston / East Sussex / Art

Scrawled on a folder that had been kept secret since the 1960s, the words “these drawings are very private” remained true until two years ago. The folder’s contents consisted of 422 erotic illustrations, all of them the work of Duncan Grant, a Bloomsbury Group member and one of the most venerated British painters of the mid–20th century. When he made the drawings, homosexuality was illegal and depictions of intimacy between men were dangerous. Grant had originally enlisted his friend Edward le Bas to be their caretaker; his death six years later sparked rumors that the works had been lost forever. In reality, a series of transferrals had led them to the hands of Norman Coates, a theater designer who kept them under his bed for over a decade. Bold, unabashed, and alluring, Grant’s drawings represent an important slice of queer history. In 2020, the archive was given to the Charleston museum, the former house and studio where Grant lived with his lover David Garnett, Vanessa Bell, and her husband, Clive. The prodigal drawings have finally come home. —Nyla Gilstrap

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