Painter Duncan Grant, 35, is having a glass of wine in the most fabulous apartment, lent to him by posh friends for the past two months, at the tip of Ile St. Louis, looking out at Notre Dame.
What a great trip.
Two months ago he was home in London, with his partner, fellow painter Vanessa Bell, 41, listening to a reading of a memoir by her sister, novelist Virginia Woolf, 38.
The next night, he was in Paris dining with his former lover, economist John Maynard Keynes, 37, at legendary restaurant La Perouse, with its scandalous secret rooms.
La Perouse, 51 Quai des Grands Augustins
On the Tuesday he arrived he had written to Vanessa back in London, describing the flat as
full of Bonnards & Vuillards & exquisite views over the Seine with an old world French house servant called Jean. I have only seen it all by the light of the sunset…I do wish you could come before Friday night.”
Vanessa did come over and they had gone with Keynes to Rome for a month. Maynard had wisely determined that the lire would sink against the pound and advised them to spend. Which they did.
Duncan Grant and Maynard Keynes
Rome was filled with tourists. Duncan wrote to his lover, Bunny Garnett, 28, who was staying in Duncan’s rooms back in Bloomsbury, that Rome
is packed with the Italian aristocrats who simply love living in hotels and leaving their estates to Bolsheviks in the country. Our hotel is cram full of contessas, marchesas, principessas, and duchesses. They don’t get up till lunch, at 1, have a siesta till about 4, eat ices and drink coffee till 5 when they take a drive on the Pincio, home to dinner at 9:30. Jazz till 2, even the old ladies received till 4 or 5 in the morning…1 can buy masses of arum lilies irises roses pansies and marigolds for a few francs on the steps of the Piazza di Spagna.”
Maynard, now quite the celebrity economist, had been invited to visit with American art historian Bernard Berenson, 54, at his Villa I Tatti outside Florence. He had insisted that Vanessa and Duncan come along.
Back in Paris, the month of May had started off with riots during the International Labor Day celebrations, and then strikes broke out all over the country—dock workers, coal miners, and, most inconvenient of all, railway workers.
Vanessa had written letters home about their fascinating dinners with
the Derains, Braque & Mme., and Satie—sat til 2 am outside Lipps talking in the end only to the Derains—all the others went. It was very hot & got delicious at that hour. Derain was perfectly charming & so was she. In fact the more I see of her the more I like her & the more I am overcome by her beauty. I think she’s one of the most astonishing people I’ve ever met & less terrifying than she was at first.”
Mme. Derain in a White Shawl by Andre Derain
His traveling companions have all left, so today Duncan goes back to La Perouse for lunch, this time with the founder of Nouvelle Revue Française (The New French Review), Andre Gide, 50, and his lover of the past four years, photographer Marc Allegret, 19.
Now it is time for Duncan to go back home to London. One last glass of wine…
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the book, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s, to be published by K. Donnelly Communications. For more information, email me at email@example.com.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.
In 2020 I will be talking about writers’ salons before and after the Great War in Ireland, England, France and America in the University of Pittsburgh’s Osher Lifelong Learning program.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins and his relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.