Charleston is a late sixteenth century farmhouse, gallery and garden situated in the South Downs near Firle in East Sussex.It was the country retreat of The Bloomsbury Group and home to Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, other members of the household included English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists in the first half of the 20th century and Charleston was a common meeting point for the group. They wanted freedom to develop their own ideas and lifestyles.
I am lucky to live not far from Charleston, it has the most beautiful gardens and magnificent interiors making it one of my most favourite places to visit when I am in need of a little inspiration and motivation for my own artwork. Each and every room of the house is bursting with art, creativity and individuality. I was asked which was my favourite room at the house but it was too difficult to choose as I really love them all!
One of my favourites has to be Vanessa Bell's original bedroom which later became the library and features a painting by Duncan Grant of a cockerel above her bedroom window and the family’s lurcher dog 'Henry' painted below the window "to guard her at night and wake her up in the morning."
I love that idea!
Another favourite of mine has to be Duncan Grant's studio which was designed by the artist Roger Fry. There are just so many things to look at in his studio, I love the walls which are painted in dark colours, soft tones of grey, green and dark pink to enhance the brightness of Duncan and Vanessa’s work. Something I might try out in my own home!
Unfortunately the only room I have not seen at Charleston is the kitchen (as its only open at certain times) I hope I get the opportunity one day.
One of the things I love is imagining the conversations and everyday life going on at Charleston. I love to sit down with a coffee and my favourite book 'Charleston' a Bloomsbury house and garden by Quentin Bell and Virginia Nicholson with photographs by Alen MacWeeney. Pure escapism!
I do also love the Instagram account of Virginia Nicholson @vncourthouse daughter of Quentin Bell (son of Vanessa Bell) who shares wonderful photos of life at Charleston.
I first visited Charleston in the late 80s. Duncan Grant had died in 1978 and the house fell into disrepair. The Charleston Trust was formed in 1980 and they were able to raise enough money to restore the house.They opened the doors to members of the public in 1986. I visited the house with my family when I was roughly 12 years old and I remember it being a truly special place, like nothing I had ever seen before. It is such a magical place bursting with creativity, making it a real feast for the eyes. A place like no other. I now enjoy visits to Charleston with my own family and daughters.
One of the stories I love which is often told by the tour guides was how a painting by Cezanne was left in a hedge at Charleston during the 1st World War. Maynard Keynes a key member of the Bloomsbury group, an economist and art collector was told by Roger Fry about the sale of impressionist works from the collection of the artist Degas who had recently died, Fry believed that artists like Cézanne were geniuses and they had yet to be recognised by the British. Keynes found out about an Art Auction in Paris and thought he’d be able to pick up some bargains, so he travelled to France. During the auction however Paris was attacked by the Germans which meant many of the bidders fled, enabling Keynes to pick up some real bargains including a piece by Cézanne – seven apples in a fruit bowl. Lots of work he bought from the auction and the dedication he had collecting art is now evident as many of the pieces are now in the National Gallery which we would never have had without Keynes dedication. The art collection now creates some of the most popular rooms in the National Gallery. At the end of the auction when he and another collector arrived back in England, a diplomat Chamberlain joined them and offered Keynes a lift from Folkestone to Charleston. When arriving at Charleston he realised the track was far too muddy for his car to get down so Keynes walked half a mile down the track to Charleston with all his luggage, unable to carry it all he left the Cézanne painting under a hedge! When Keynes arrived at the house he told Duncan he had left a Cézanne painting in the hedge just behind the gate. Keynes kept this painting over his bed until he died in 1946.The painting hangs today in Cambridge Fitz William museum. Quite remarkable really that a Cezanne painting was left in a hedge in Sussex!
Sadly Charleston faces another battle to survive. The closure of Charleston due to the Covid 19 pandemic and the cancellation of the Charleston Festival is financially devastating for their organisation.
Brighton based artist Emily Maudey has organised Charleston Inspires, an Instagram auction featuring many artists who have donated artworks .
I jumped at the chance to donate one of my oil paintings and I am thrilled the painting ‘Summer At Charleston’ already has bids and that I will have contributed in some small way to help Charleston survive. Please do check out the auction or donate to the trust.
Prints of my painting 'Summer At Charleston' are available here.
Book: CHARLESTON a Bloomsbury house & garden
Sites used: https://www.charleston.org.uk