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Archive for the ‘Vanessa Bell’ Category

Leonard went over it, and says it’s a most delightful house and strongly advises you to take it . . . It has a charming garden, with a pond, and fruit trees, and vegetables, all now rather run wild, but you could make it lovely.

That was Virginia Woolf’s description of Charleston in a letter she wrote to her sister Vanessa Bell in 1916.

Vanessa took her sister’s advice. She arrived at Charleston in Firle, Sussex, via taxi in October of the same year. She would call it her home for the rest of her life.

She did not arrive alone, however. She was accompanied by her children, Julian and Quentin; fellow artist and sometimes lover Duncan Grant; his lover, David Garnett; a nurse; a maid; a cook; and a dog named Henry who would be memorialized forever on a wall in the home’s library.

Vanessa made the home her own until her death in 1961. During the years of the Great War, she lived there full time. Afterwards, she and her children, who now numbered three and included Angelica, her daughter with Duncan, born on Dec. 25 1918, moved back to London and used Charleston as a summer home.

The golden age of Charleston

During the interwar years, which Quentin Bell described as “the golden age of Charleston,” famous friends from the worlds of literature, art, and politics, visited the home on a regular basis. By the start of World War II, Charleston became the family’s full-time home and a wartime refuge once again.

After the death of Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell in 1964 and Duncan in 1978, Angelica Garnett, lived at Charleston alone until 1980, when the Charleston Trust was formed. It is this entity that set about restoring the house to its current state, circa 1950s, with all of the furnishings and personal items left behind by its occupants preserved intact.

Literature Cambridge road trip to Charleston

We visited Charleston, known as Bloomsbury in the country, as the first charming stop on our coach trip, once our Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens ended last month.

Exterior door to Vanessa and Duncan’s studio at Charleston

We toured the home, with every surface painted and decorated by Vanessa and Duncan — from doors to woodwork to furniture to bathtubs. There was so much to see that it was impossible to take in every detail, even though it was my second trip.

Here’s what we saw as we soaked up the Post-Impressionist beauty and palpable energy of this unique home:

  • Clive’s ground floor study, with its fireplace designed by Roger Fry and its fireplace surround and window embrasure decorated by Vanessa
  • The dining room, with its black walls stenciled in grey and yellow by Duncan and Quentin and its large round wooden table decorated by Vanessa.
  • The second floor bedrooms of Duncan, Clive, and Maynard Keynes, where he wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace 
  • Vanessa’s first floor bedroom with its en suite bath that scandalized the residents of Firle and its French doors that open to the lavish garden
  • The library, with its book-lined walls and Duncan’s painting of dog Henry below the north wall
  • The green bathroom, with its bathtub decorated with a 1969 painting of a nude by Richard Shone
  • The artists’ studio, constructed by Vanessa and Duncan in 1925, where they worked together until World War II, when Vanessa had her own studio built at the top of the house.

Tour Charleston in words and photos

Photographs are not permitted inside the home, as some of the artwork displayed is owned by private individuals.

But I recommend the book Charleston: A Bloomsbury House and Garden if you want to read more about the home and view its gorgeous, colorful, and individualized rooms. You can also take a room by room photo tour of the home on the Charleston website.

As a result of the ban on interior photos, I had to limit my photography to the outdoor spaces. But the home is famous for its beautiful garden, so scroll down for a pictorial walking tour.

Then take a look at the Blogging Woolf post about our Literature Cambridge trip to Monk’s House that same day, where photos were permitted inside and out.

The pond at Charleston lies beyond the lawn that fronts the house. In 1917, it was larger and deeper and was the home of carp and eels. Quentin Bell’s sculpture of a levitating woman is installed on the far shore.

Charleston as seen from the farm track to the home. The gravel, the lawn, bushes, and the facade of the house are the same as in the time of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

The close-boarded wooden gate to Charleston, with a square pillar topped by one of two urns cast by Quentin Bell in 1952. They sit on either side of the gate.

Entry to the walled garden at Charleston

Toadstool sculpture within the gate of the walled garden

Tile plaque mounted inside the flint and brick wall noting garden restoration details

Small pond lined with ceramic tiles, originally decorated by Vanessa about 1930 but replaced with copies by Quentin.

Hollyhocks frame a cast of a Giovanni da Bologna sculpture of a modest lady in the Charleston garden. She stands in a corner beneath an apple tree.

The flint and brick garden wall with a row of casts of antique heads, many of which have been replaced over the years.

This window at Charleston frames a pot of red geraniums.

A view of Charleston from in front of the pond

Cressida Bell items for sale in the Charleston gift shop

Fabrics for sale at the Charleston gift shop, with designs by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant

 

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Our marvelous Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens ended last Friday. But perhaps the best was yet to come.

Our class, along with some of those enrolled in this week’s Fictions of Home class, went on an all-day outing to Monk’s House, Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s home in Rodmell, and Charleston, the nearby home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and others. Beautiful, incredibly moving, and breathtaking.

I’m traveling today, so only have time to post these tweets. But I promise to provide more about the trip after I am back in a room of my own.

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King’s College, Cambridge

It’s day two of the Literature Cambridge course Virginia Woolf’s Gardens, and we spent two hours touring the gardens of King’s College, Cambridge. Then came the best part of all. We saw the window of a room that was the setting for a scene in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

Not a room of her own

That important part of our tour came at the end, as we got a look at the second floor window of the room overlooking the college green where, our guide told us, Woolf wrote the first chapter of A Room of One’s Own (1929). Later, Trudi Tate, director of Literature Cambridge, corrected that statement. Instead, she told us, the room was the setting for the well-appointed lunch Woolf describes in the first chapter of Room.

The room, of course, was not her own, but was the quarters of Dadie Rylands. Women were not admitted to King’s until 1972, so they obtained their degrees at the University of Cambridge’s two women’s colleges, Newnham, founded in 1869, and Girton, founded in 1871.

We were not able to visit the actual room that helped inspire Woolf, as it is now the accounting office for the college. Ironically, it was off limits to Woolf pilgrims, we who revere her feminist polemic about the ways the patriarchy limits women. I do admit that our group of more than two dozen would have crowded such small quarters.

Bloomsbury paintings in the hundreds

However, after viewing the Provost’s Garden, we were taken inside the nearby Provost’s Lodge. There, we were shown two first-floor rooms hung with original paintings by Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, and Dora Carrington.

I took plenty of photos of the paintings we saw, but publication of them — even on the internet — is not permitted without permission, and we did not want to trouble our gracious guide to obtain that.

As it turns out, hundreds of paintings by Grant and Bell are hung around the college, many of them donated by Maynard Keynes. A catalogue of the Bloomsbury art is in the works, but it will be several years before it is ready. We were told that it may be available in digital format.

Corrected and updated: 17 July 2019

Virginia Woolf wrote the first chapter of “A Room of One’s Own” in Dadie Rylands’ room at King’s College, Cambridge, which was behind the second floor window shown here.

This was part of the view Woolf would have seen from Dadie Rylands’ room at King’s College, Cambridge, where she wrote the first chapter of “A Room of One’s Own.” As our guide told us, the buildings, the lawn, and the gardens have changed little since Woolf’s day.

Woolf mentions undergraduates punting on the river in “A Room of One’s Own.” They, and tourists, still do that today on the River Cam located just beyond the lawn pictured above.

In the Provost’s Garden at King’s College, Cambridge, a private place we viewed on our tour.

A flower bed in the Provost’s Garden, with a pot of colorful sweet peas growing up a trellis.

Giant magnolias from the U.S. frame a doorway in the Provost’s Garden.

Sun-kissed floral closeup in the Provost’s Garden.

The Wine Room in the Provost’s Lodge is filled with paintings by members of the Bloomsbury Group. It is often used now as a seminar room. The 23 students in our group snapped lots of photos of the art.

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Oh, to be in London next week! The book launch of From Omega to Charleston: The Art of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant 1910-1934 will take place at Hatchards Piccadilly, 187 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9LE, March 14.

A panel discussion with Piano Nobile will be held at 5 p.m.  The book launch is 6 – 8.30 p.m. Limited seating is available. RSVP by emailing events@hatchards.co.uk

About the book

Added below is information provided by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain:

The book is published to accompany the exhibition From Omega to Charleston: The Art of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, 1910-1934, this fully illustrated catalogue includes an essay and catalogue entries by Richard Shone (author of Bloomsbury Portraits (1993) and curator of The Art of Bloomsbury, Tate, (1999), the book explores the unique creative relationship shared by Bell and Grant through rarely seen works from private collections, some of which are reproduced for the first time, and a selection of loans from The Charleston Trust.

Famous Women Dinner Service

The second half of the publication focusses exclusively on The Famous Women Dinner Service. Begun in 1932 at the request of the art historian and director of the National Gallery Kenneth Clark and his wife Jane, these fifty plates were decorated with images of famous women through the ages, from Sappho to Greta Garbo.

Considered lost by art historians for nearly 40 years, the dinner service forms an impressive testament to Bell and Grant’s close working partnership. A ground-breaking essay by Hana Leaper is succeeded by closer scholarship dedicated to the individual plates. Produced in partnership with the Paul MellonCentre for Studies in British Art, this research is published in print for the first time.

The glorious catalogue is available for view on the Issuu website.

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This Christmas day, I unwrapped a present from my landlady and, completely unexpectedly, a small purple hardback book with gold lettering and a beautiful portrait of Virginia Woolf fell onto my lap. I was delighted, and proceeded to read it cover to cover amidst wrapping paper and ended up holding back tears to prevent myself being utterly embarrassed in front of my in-laws.

virginia woolf life portraits

© Zena Alkayat and Nina Cosford

Virginia Woolf (Life Portraits) by Zena Alkayat and Nina Cosford poetically weaves the story of Woolf’s life with Alkayat’s considered text and Cosford’s illustrations, a fresh response to the Bloomsbury aesthetic. It opens with the following quote from Mrs Dalloway:

She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was on the outside, looking on.

This liminality, both the relation between work and life and Woolf’s psychological flux, is represented thoughtfully throughout the biography.

street haunting in life portrait

© Zena Alkayat and Nina Cosford

Alkayat focuses on the personal details of life: how Vanessa Bell’s sheepdog Gurth accompanied her “street haunting”, how Leonard and Virginia Woolf spent nights during the First World War in their coal cellar sitting on boxes, and that they later named their car “the umbrella”. She also puts us on a first name basis with Virginia, Vanessa and Duncan, et al. – a choice which made me feel closer to their world.

charleston in woolf life portrait

© Nina Cosford

Cosford’s illustrations are both sensitive to the Bloomsbury style and offer a fresh perspective. Her bold lines and patterns used to illustrate the pages about Vanessa Bell’s cover designs for Virginia Woolf’s novels, for example, are edged with mark-making in the mode of Bell. Her use of colour also seems emotive, following the waves of high and low that punctuate the narrative. Her illustrations capture the paraphernalia of every-day life, from the objects atop Woolf’s writing desk – diary, hair grips, photo of Julia, sweets – to the plants in the garden at Monks House, bringing Virginia’s life closer to home.

monks house plants

© Nina Cosford

Illustration and text come together beautifully in this miniature autobiography and would provide any reader with a poetic and surprising escape into the life of Virginia Woolf.

 

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Amongst a box filled with stretched canvas and paintings on wood, we re-discovered these fantastic landscapes of the local area. Both painted by Vanessa Bell, the first is of the old Coach Road looking towards Firle Tower on the right. The leaves on the trees appear to be blowing in the wind, the farmland and coach road painted lightly in pinks and purples to represent the human touch on the landscape…

Source: Local Landscapes of Firle | The Charleston Attic

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First, there was the conference. Then came the party. In London. With the Woolfs.

On the Monday evening following days one, two, three, and four of the 27th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson hosted a party in London for their visiting Woolfian friends who remained in town.

I was happy to be among them. But I was chagrined to arrive on their doorstep 20 minutes early due to lightning fast service by my Uber driver.

Cecil and Jean, however, didn’t blink when they answered my too-early knock. They ushered me in and escorted me up the stairs, past stacks of books from their Bloomsbury Heritage Series and a smattering of hats from Jean’s famous collection.

Cecil poured me a glass of wine and settled me in their persimmon-colored sitting room that is casually decorated with original Bloomsbury art by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. It was magical.

Cecil and Jean are tremendous hosts who know how to make each guest feel specially welcome, no matter when they arrive. They created a wonderful evening full of camaraderie, good food, and drink, while introducing us to their daughter Emma Woolf, author of numerous books and a regular BBC contributor.

Afterward, when thinking about the evening, a quote came to mind that perfectly captures the mood and magic of the evening.

No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself. – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1929)

Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson hosted a post-conference party at their London home, which also houses Cecil Woolf Publishers.

This side table decorated by Duncan Grant held appetizers, as well as my little Virginia. #travelswithvirginiawoolf

Cecil Woolf and daughter Emma Woolf at the party.

Louise Higham, Suzanne Bellamy, John McCoy, and Eleanor McNees (far right) were among the party guests.

A firescreen painted by Duncan Grant.

Bloomsbury art above the fireplace, along with a piece by Suzanne Bellamy and a photo of Jean.

Judith Allen and her husband Steve.

More Bloomsbury art.

 

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