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Charleston, a treasure trove of Bloomsbury art and culture, is in dire need. Can you help?

Charleston

The longtime home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and the country refuge for the Bloomsbury group, along with its garden, galleries, shop and café, are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

That means the charity that receives no public funding is bereft of income from visitor admissions, as well as its main fundraising event. The Charleston Festival, scheduled for May, is cancelled.

As a result, Charleston has issued an emergency appeal for donations from those who appreciate this unique venue, no matter what side of the pond they live on.

You can find out more, including how to make a donation — whether you are a UK citizen or not — here.

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 Charleston garden

The Famous Women Dinner Service painted by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant between 1932 and 1934 has been on display in the Outer Studio at Charleston.

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Peter and Jill Seddon, two retired academics from Brighton University, replicated as exactly as possible a trip made by Leonard and Virginia Woolf in the spring of 1928 to Cassis and back. You can follow along with them on Instagram.

The purpose of the Woolfs’ trip was to visit Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant at their house, La Bergere, on the Fontcreuze Estate near Cassis.

Peter, a researcher, artist and intervention artist, and Jill, a pioneer and innovator in design history, posted images and commentary about their 2018 trip each day. You can find their photos on Instagram at @followingthewoolfs

Meanwhile, here are two of the first posts the couple posted, along with a later one. The first two are tagged #followingthewoolfs.

Nobody shall say of me that I have not known perfect happiness. -Virginia Woolf on her first trip to Cassis in 1925.

 

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One of four pieces of furniture painted by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in Cassis and collected by Jerome Hill, the founder of the Camargo Foundation. (1930s?)These four pieces are now in a corridor in the Foundation building since they are considered too frail for use in the other rooms. This example echos much of such work in Carleston House and work they undertook for the Omega Workshops established by Roger Fry. For those unfamilar with it, the Camargo Foundation supports residencies for artists, dancers, film makers, creative writers, as well as residencies for scholars in the humanities working on Francophone projects. #leonardwoolf #virginiawoolfquotes #virginiawoolf #pallenthousegallery #townergallery #pheonixgallerybrighton #brightonmuseumsndartgallery #camargofoundation #charlestontrust #monkshousent #kingscollegearchives

A post shared by Peter & Jill Seddon (@followingthewoolfs) on

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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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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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Virginia and Vita. Virginia and Leonard. Vanessa and Roger. Vanessa and Duncan. All four of those Bloomsbury couples are included in the exhibit “Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde” at The Barbican Art Gallery in London through Jan. 27, 2019.

According to promoters:

Modern Couples explores creative relationships, across painting, literature, sculpture, photography and design. Meet the artist couples that forged new ways of making art and of living and loving, from Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera, Emilie Flöge & Gustav Klimt to Virginia Woolf & Vita Sackville-West.

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