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The Queen of Sheba (1912)

Duncan Grant

oil on plywood

Tate, London, Liverpool and St Ives






Oil, Plywood


120 x 120 cm

Accession Number:



Presented by the Contemporary Art Society, 1917

Ownership history:

Purchased from the artist at the Grafton Galleries, London by Roger Fry (1866-1934), 1912; purchased by Charles Aitken (1869 - 1936) for the Contemporary Art Society, 1912; presented to the Tate Gallery, 1917
Karl Goldmark’s opera The Queen of Sheba was premièred in London in the winter of 1911 and most likely provided an inspiration for the subject of this sketch. It was painted by Duncan Grant in the spring of 1912 as part of an abortive decorative scheme (under the auspices of the classicist and lecturer Jane Harrison) for the cloister at Newnham College, Cambridge. His cousin, Pernel Strachey (1876-1951), sister of the writer Lytton, had been a student there and later became its Principal (1927-41). They are depicted here as the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. The costumes echo those of Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes that had its first performances in London at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1911. It was exhibited at Roger Fry’s Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in October–December 1912 when it was purchased by Fry who passed it on the Contemporary Art Society, being its co-founder and a member of its executive committee. This was the first work by Duncan Grant to enter the Tate's collection; presented by the CAS, after it had been shown in Liverpool and the Twentieth Century Art exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1914), in 1917.

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