I always find it difficult to review a biography; I think if you are really going to do it justice you must have some understanding of the subject at hand, and by that I mean the substance of the person’s life. In this case we are talking about Duncan Grant, Bloomsbury figure and a major artist of the 20th century. And this is where I have to declare that although I know quite a lot about Bloomsbury (a mild obsession since picking up my first Virginia Woolf novel when I was a student) but not very much at all about the art world, which is what made this such a fascinating read.

So because of the reading I had done before I knew roughly where Grant fitted in terms of time and style, and his life does cover a period of significant change n the art world – as it says in the blurb, we are talking about a life that spanned Alma-Tadema to Gilbert & George. What I don’t know anything about are the technical aspects of painting, and although I’m sure I missed a great deal of the significance of the technical discussions I certainly didn’t feel horribly left behind, or indeed talked-down to.

Of course when it comes to a member of Bloomsbury then the private life is bound to be absolutely fascinating and that is very much the case here as you would expect. Again I knew a lot about Grant up to the point of Vanessa Bell’s death but afterwards was a bit murky, and the biography was very revealing about his family life and wider circle, his passions and friendships.

So, all in all a very worthwhile and absorbing read, with a great deal of information being passed on but never feeling that the reader is being talked at.

This was my first read for the Art History Reading Challenge.

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