'IN THE LIBRARY at Charleston farmhouse hangs Duncan Grant's 1942 Portrait of Vanessa Bell, generously lent by the Tate Gallery. At first glance, the sitter appears rather imperious and forbidding, but on closer inspection one sees a loving and intimate portrait of a sad and beautiful woman in her sixties. The pose is grand, she sits in a high-backed Victorian chair, wearing an apricot cloak lined in dusky pink. The black-shoed foot pointing downwards echoes one of Grant's favourite works of art - Gainsborough's Countess Howe at Kenwood. But unlike the cool meticulousness of the latter, here we have lashings of paint. This, after all, was a portrait of a woman whom Duncan Grant had known intimately for over 30 years. It was painted five years after the death of her elder son Julian in the Spanish Civil War and only a year after the suicide of her sister, Virginia Woolf; the tragedy is all too visible. It is hauntingly beautiful.'
Robert McPherson is chairman of the Charleston Trust. Charleston - Bell and Grant's home - is hosting a show of contemporary prints to raise funds for its upkeep. To 5 June. Near Lewes, Sussex (0323 811265)
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