Duncan Grant and RMS Queen Mary

Sketch for the Queen Mary, 1935. Image copyright the estate of Duncan Grant

This colour sketch by Duncan Grant (1885-1978) was presented to Worcester City Museums by the Contemporary Art Society.  It is a preparatory study for the Flower Gatherers panel which was intended by Grant to be hung over one of the fireplaces in the First Class Lounge of RMS Queen Mary.

Undertaking her maiden voyage in May 1936, the Queen Mary was a spectacular ocean liner who took the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic later that year.

In 1935, thirty contemporary artists were commission to create designs for the ship’s interior.  Grant’s fee for his work for the First Class Lounge was £1200.  He afterwards described the commission:
“I was not only to paint some large murals to go over the fireplaces, but arrange for the carpets, curtains, textiles, all of which were to be chosen or designed by me.”

Sadly, Grant’s exuberant designs were considerably more ‘modern’ than Cunard was ready for.
“When it was all ready I sent the panels to the ship to put the finishing touches to them when hanging. A few days later I received a visit from the Company’s man, who told me that the Chairman had, on his own authority, turned down the panels, refusing to give any reason…
“I never got any reason for the rejection of my work. The company simply said they were not suitable, paid my fee, and that was that.”

Sir Percy Bates, the chairman of Cunard wrote to BW Morris, the architect overseeing the ship’s interior decoration:
“We propose to revert to our original scheme of mirrors over the port and starboard fireplaces, and personally I am satisfied that these will look nice, if not nicer, than any pictures would have done.”

Duncan Grant’s supporters wrote angry letters to the newspapers, but Grant himself chose to keep quiet and his fee. 

The designs were instead bought by private collectors.  The final decoration for the lounge was more restrained and more fashionable than Grant’s very individual painting style and execution.

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