HUNDREDS of explicit drawings by renowned artist Duncan Grant have been rediscovered after being 'lost' for 60 years.

As a gay man, Scotland-born Grant lived most of his life as a ‘criminal’ - but that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the most prolific artists of his time, as a member of the celebrated Bloomsbury group in the mid twentieth century.

He was born in 1885 in Rothiemurchus, Aviemore, seven months before the introduction of the Criminal Law Amendment Act which criminalised all male homosexual sex in the UK.

HeraldScotland: Untitled drawing, c.1946-1959, Duncan Grant (1885-1978), The Charleston Trust © The Estate of Duncan Grant, licensed by DACS 2020.Untitled drawing, c.1946-1959, Duncan Grant (1885-1978), The Charleston Trust © The Estate of Duncan Grant, licensed by DACS 2020.

This state of affairs remained until 1967 when the Sexual Offences Act was passed in England - although it was not until 1980 when homosexuality was finally decriminalised in Scotland.

Now, hundreds of Grant’s explicit drawings originally marked ‘private’ are being made public after decades of being believed lost.

The drawings, of which there are 422, were given by the artist to his friend Edward le Bas on 2 May 1959, in a folder marked ‘These drawings are very private.’

Until now they had been thought destroyed by Le Bas’ sister after his death, but were in fact rescued and passed from lover to lover, friend to friend, for over 60 years.

Now the collection will be displayed in Grant’s former home and studio at The Charleston Trust in the South of England, as it kickstarts its crowdfunding campaign to finally reopen in Spring 2021, after forced closure during the pandemic.

Thanks to the current owner of the drawings and The Charleston Trust, the erotic illustrations expressing Grant’s lifelong fascination with the joy and beauty of queer sexual encounters will be made available for the public to enjoy after years of staying hidden under a bed.

HeraldScotland: Untitled drawing, c.1946-1959, Duncan Grant (1885-1978), The Charleston Trust © The Estate of Duncan Grant, licensed by DACS 2020.Untitled drawing, c.1946-1959, Duncan Grant (1885-1978), The Charleston Trust © The Estate of Duncan Grant, licensed by DACS 2020.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the current owner of the works, theatre designer Norman Coates, had been in discussion with Charleston about potentially returning these works to Grant’s home and studio.

But as Mr Coates realised that Charleston, a place of sanctuary and acceptance to Grant, was at critical risk of insolvency, it cemented in his mind the importance of Charleston surviving, and these drawings being shared with its visitors. For him, it was important that the drawings did not “go back in the closet.”

The Charleston Trust is today launching a crowd-funding campaign, on the eve of the 104th anniversary of Duncan Grant, his boyfriend David “Bunny” Garnett and friend Vanessa Bell moving to Charleston for the first time so it can be saved after the hardships endured over the course of the pandemic.

Head of Collections, Research and Exhibitions at The Charleston Trust Dr Darren Clarke believes the drawing represent a major part of Duncan Grant’s artistic output and reflect a “core part of his identity.”

“‘Never be ashamed’ was a belief that Duncan Grant lived by, so at first it may appear strange, even hypocritical that this collection of works were hidden, marked ‘very private’, that there is a palpable sense of fear at their discovery,” he said. “The works come from the late 1940s and 50s, a time when these beautiful and consensual acts were outlawed.”

This body of work comes from the 1940s and 50s, and expresses the playful and erotic aspects of Grant’s personality.

Dr Clarke continued: “After the relative freedoms of the Second World War, the authorities in peace time Britain began to assert a new controlling puritanism, stamping on anything that deviated from the heteronormative.

"There were high profile prosecution cases of people that moved in Grant’s circle. The risk of discovery, of prosecution, of imprisonment was real. So, they remained in secret, like so much of our LGBTQ culture.”

HeraldScotland: Untitled drawing, c.1946-1959, Duncan Grant (1885-1978), The Charleston Trust © The Estate of Duncan Grant, licensed by DACS 2020.Untitled drawing, c.1946-1959, Duncan Grant (1885-1978), The Charleston Trust © The Estate of Duncan Grant, licensed by DACS 2020.

And Dr Clarke believes that the works allow historians, biographers and artists understand the Bloomsbury group for all its “intensity and tenderness.”

“Historians and biographers talk about the complicated love lives of the Bloomsbury group in abstracted ways, in lists of lovers, in dates and jealousies,” he said. “But in these works we see what love is, in all its intensity and tenderness. Here is the pleasure of love, the physical, the hard, the soft and the beautiful.”

Influenced by the Greco-Roman traditions and contemporary physique magazines, the works were produced in tandem with Grant’s public art, often sharing similar formal themes and techniques.

For Dr Clarke, not only do the sketches give a sense of Grant’s artistic abilities, but also the passion he had for life, love, and the human body.

He added: “Over 400 images of queer sex: of couples, throuples and more, drawn and painted with Grant’s fluid, sensual, yet confident hand, these works are a celebration of queer sex, a major body of work that changes our perception of both the artist and the world he lived in.

“With such diverse influences as Greek mythology, Body Building magazines and American soft-core magazines like Physique Pictorial, mixed with memories of lovers from Grant’s own lifetime of sexual encounters, the artist explored, recorded, and celebrated these highly personal encounters.”

He added: “What is constant is their tenderness. These are not depictions of power plays, of aggressive or brutal encounters.

"During the most intense and involved sex act, all the participants are expressing joy and affection; a gentle hand on the head, a back arched in ecstasy, a tender caress, a contented smile on the lips.”

The Charleston Trust hopes to soon reopen its doors to visitors so they can enjoy the house and its collection, now including the extraordinary gift of Grant’s private drawings.