This week a team from Dulwich Picture Gallery visited Charleston for the day in order to photograph objects and interiors for the upcoming exhibition ‘Vanessa Bell 1876-1961’.
This week’s discovery of a child’s drawing in the Gift can be seen to reveal more about the children of Bloomsbury and their involvement in the creative practises of the household.
CHA/P/2806. Recto, Child‘s drawing of female figure wearing a dress and hat, found in the Gift, artist unknown. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
For the generations of children growing up at Charleston, creativity had no bounds. Virginia Nicholson (née Bell), who spent every summer there with her parents, grandparents and Duncan Grant recalls:
‘My brother and sister [Julian and Cressida] and I grew up, as did [my father] Quentin and his siblings, with the conviction that Art was something everyone could do. Paint, clay, mud, glue and matches, were all endlessly available. Yet did the inhabitants of Charleston ever really grow up? Charleston ever really grow up? There is a wonderfully uninhibited, irreverent quality to the decoration of the house which is that of a child let loose to experiment and which is extraordinary liberating.’ (Bell and Nicholson, 1997, p.6)
Pinned to the Studio mantelpiece are drawings by the five-year old Virginia that plainly shows her family’s encouragement of her creative imagination. In one, three figures, painstakingly drawn, with extraordinarily audible expressions, are seated in identical chairs, wearing enormous hats of varying proportions! In another, titled ‘GOING HUNTING’ (labelled in large bold letters at the bottom of the rural landscape suggestive of Charleston’s surrounding countryside), a knight in chainmail sits astride a horse, it’s front legs accurately drawn raised in a galloping motion.
CHA/E/149. Recto, Child‘s drawing, circa 1960, by Virginia Bell, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
CHA/E/150. Recto, Child‘s drawing , circa 1960, by Virginia Bell, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
At Charleston, Virginia and her brother, sister and cousins had plenty to stimulate them, with the eclectic range of sights, smells and sounds of Charleston to take in. Virginia recalls her:
‘…memories of adventures around the pond, of being painted by Vanessa and Duncan in the studio, of the lovely smell of new cake, books and turpentine that pervaded the house, of crocks of wet clay in the pottery, of dahlias in the garden and sweet lavender drying in the spare rooms.’ (Nicholson, 1997, p.6)
During those first early years at Charleston, its inhabitants found it a challenging and inhospitable place to live; not largely because of the shortage of food and greater isolation out in the country as a result of the War. For Vanessa Bell, who manned the household, the most challenging aspect of this life was juggling practical responsibilities with her painting. To Roger Fry, a close confidant, in April 1917 she wrote: ‘You don’t know how desperate I sometimes get about everything, painting, bringing up the children properly etc.’ In response to this, Fry sent her back a positive reply in his letter, praising her for her, ‘…marvellous practical power [which] has of course really a quality of great imagination in it, because your efficiency comes without fuss. No I don’t think you need ever doubt yourself. You have genius in your life as well as in your art and both are rare things.’
Roger Fry took an interest in Vanessa Bell’s children and how they were brought up. His comment of their mother’s ‘great imagination’, made to her in reassurance of her anxieties expressed to him that she could not both paint and bring up her children well at Charleston, are revealing of his beliefs about the educational philosophy of children in relation to creativity. In 1917, Fry wrote an article for the Burlington Magazine; ‘Children’s Drawings’, highlighting his main belief that, ‘…teaching [of art, to children] destroy[s] completely the[ir] peculiar gifts of representation and design, replacing them with feeble imitations of some contemporary convention.’
Since their move to Charleston in 1916, Vanessa Bell had been worrying about her children’s formal education: should she send Julian and Quentin away to school when they were still young, or would the traditional public school system be constraining to their development? She concluded that she would set up a small school at Charleston and they were initially taught there by a governess. Their mother taught them French and Music, though, interestingly, there is no record of her ever teaching them her own trade. Angelica Garnett also remembered this absence of art lessons at home: in Gordon Square, she was given ‘one painting lesson…[by] Vanessa…the only one [she] ever gave me,’ Perhaps then Bell did share Fry’s view that ‘art cannot…be taught at all [as]…art is a purely subjective affair…everyone is an artist…[and]…children [should be] stimulated to create instead of being inhibited by instruction [as] no modern adult can retain the freshness of vision, the surprise and shock, the intimacy and sharpness of notion…’ like that of a child can.
CHA/P/2281. Recto, Child’s drawing, sketches of fairies, ’37 Gordon Square’, by Angelica Bell, ink on letter writing paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
Judging by the liberal way in which her children were allowed to explore and play, there is no doubt that Bell gave them free rein to be as creative as they wished. ‘After all,’ Virginia Nicholson wrote ‘Charleston was a place where, for both children and adults, messy creativity was a way of life.’
CHA/P/2263. Recto, Child‘s drawing of male portrait figure wearing yellow military style jacket with medals and sash, titled, ‘his majesty of crimtartary’, artist unknown, found in the Gift. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
Whilst creative practises were all-encompassing at Charleston, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant took their individual work as artists extremely seriously. In 1925, a tailor-made studio was constructed for them at Charleston which suited all of their requirements as painters: it needed to have a good natural light, be quiet and therefore removed from the house and garden. The result was, as Vanessa described it shortly afterwards: ‘…the perfect place to work.’
Of the Studio at Charleston, Angelica Garnett wrote; ‘It was the sanctuary in which I spent the most treasured hours of my life…I was both protected and stimulated, without a shadow of responsibility…sitting on the studio floor engrossed in some manual occupation while those patient elders concentrated in their own dreamlike fashion on their art.’
Bell and Grant’s studio, Angelica saw as ‘the citadel of the house’, and as the child of artists, she grew up with a sense of the reverence and devotion her parents gave to the practise of painting, observing them close at hand. Her touchingly innocent observations of what she saw here of the artistic ‘hard work and concentration’, preciously taken to create ‘the most important things’ are vividly described in curious detail, reflective of that of a painters’ eye:
‘Easels and paint boxes stood about, brushes, sometimes festooned with cobweb, emerged from jugs or jam jars, palettes and tubes of paint lay on stools and tables, while there was often a bunch of red-hot pokers and dahlias arranged in front of a piece of drapery. The gun-powder-coloured walls were hung with canvases of many shapes and sizes, and some of Duncan’s favourite objects, such as jointed- or rather disjointed- Sicilian wooden horse, a silver table-watch…a fan and perhaps a child’s drawing, could be seen balanced on the mantelpiece or pinned to a spare piece of wall.’  (Garnett, 1984, p.93)
For Roger Fry, ‘This habit of attributing strong emotional values to all the objects surrounding them is what makes the visual life of children so much more vivid and intense than the visual life of almost all grown-up people.’ When Angelica was allowed in the Studio with Bell and Grant, she was under strict instructions not to disturb them whilst they were at work, and there was an unspoken expectation that ‘I should behave like a grown-up.’ However ; ‘I absorbed much of the atmosphere that I afterwards valued.’. Angelica Garnett later went on to be an artist in her own right, attributing these early experiences to her development.
Angelica’s tenacious relationship with her parents as well as their own, intimate relationship (then unbeknown to her), did cause her to struggle with a ‘consuming desire to identify with them.’ The time she spent with them in the studio was therefore treasured. Years after she put pen to paper and wrote about her childhood memories in an attempt to understand her relationship with them better, she looked back on this exercise and asked: ‘What picture had I drawn [of them] and how true was it?’ It is evident that, as an artist, she had looked at things in the same way as her parents had.
Angelica Vanessa Garnett (née Bell), in her parents’ studio at Charleston, 1979, by Jane Brown. Photograph © National Portrait Gallery.
Was it largely because they were Bloomsbury artists? In her book Deceived With Kindness (1984), Garnett talks about her parents’ ‘detachment’ from their true emotions, citing their ‘lack of physical warmth’ towards her when she was a child as due to the fact that they had kept the truth of her parentage from her. As ‘Bloomsbury, [they] believed and largely practised intellectual tolerance, but often failed to recognize the power of the emotions or the reasoning of the heart.’ Vanessa Bell, mother and artist, had ‘invented the vibrant colours and shapes that [had] surrounded [her children]’, encouraging their free play and creativity, but complex innermost feelings caused her to retreat, and always to her sanctuary, the studio.
Vanessa Bell painting in her studio at Charleston, 1936. Photograph © Tate Archives
The child’s presence in Bell and Grant’s studio has been evident since Angelica Garnett was small. Drawings that their children had made were pinned to the mantelpiece, and that of their grandchildren’s, some thirty years later. Whilst this childish work (below) is not revealing of any emerging Bloomsbury style of aesthetic, it is a sweet reminder of the sharp inquisitiveness of the Charleston children, busy at work with crayons on tables and floors; creatively inspired, and of how they were always encouraged by their elders.
The Studio at Charleston. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
 Bell, Q. and Nicholson, B. (1997) Charleston: a Bloomsbury house and garden: Frances Lincoln Limited, London.
 Garnett, A. (1995) Deceived With Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood. Pimlico, London.
Duncan Grant, illustration for ‘Europa and the Bull’ poem by W Rodgers, ‘The Arts’ journal, 1946.
This week in the Gift, we look at a series of objects that reveal a more commercial side to Duncan Grant’s work. In 1946 a commission by ‘The Arts’ a modern art journal, under the editorial supervision of Herbert Read, Edward Sackville-West, and Desmond Shawe-Taylor, provided a public platform for a new artistic collaboration. Grant’s contribution to the magazine was a painting and illustrated poem of ‘Europa and the Bull’ by W. R. Rodgers.
‘The Arts’ Issues One and Two, Lund Humphries & Co Ltd; London.
‘The Arts’ was interdisciplinary in nature, covering a range of artistic forms and practices within each issue. The first two issues feature in detail painting, sculpture, architecture, theatre, film, music, poetry and philosophy. The journals were designed to be aesthetically stimulating, presenting cover work and illustrative interpretations of poems and prose by contemporary artists alongside high quality colour lithograph plate representations of more prominent works.
The utilization of a variety of paper and print techniques emphasize the depth and detail in the featured images; the subsequent quality of the images were evidently realized by the editorial board. Content was also held in high regard as the journal features many esteemed writers such as Clive Bell (this was most likely the connection that secured Grant his commission), Edward Sackville-West, Robert Medley, Sir Kenneth Clark, Benedict Nicolson and Raymond Mortimer amongst others. At ten shillings a book the high quality was quite matched by the price, and readership would have most probably been limited to the educated middle classes. With only two issues published, Issue One in 1946 and Two in 1947, information regarding the journal is unfortunately limited.
CHA/P/2705 Recto. Duncan Grant, design for ‘Europa and the Bull’ poem by W Rodgers, pen on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust
Duncan Grant’s works in the gift includes studies for the illustrated poem as well as the final piece used. Gaining inspiration from ‘Europa and the Bull’, Grant’s form emulates classical mythology as well as the natural world. The cross-hatching of black penned lines against the text blurs the poem into the piece, mirroring the imperfect lines of language. Impressionistic in line, the inscribed pen strokes add texture and tone to the image.
‘The Arts’ Issue One, Lund Humphries & Co Ltd; London.
The opening page of the poem and thus Grants illustrated segment (this original was not found in the AG gift), is strikingly juxtaposed with a large photograph. An abstracted female form seated pronounces a smooth modernist sculpture by Henry Moore, which sits opposite the contrasting classical design. A black pen illustration envelopes the poems text, showing seated female nudes frolicking in the textured grass. This work somewhat mirrors the panels Grant produced for the Cunnard Commission, a design for interior decorative panels to be exhibited on RMS Queen Mary (although these were later rejected).
‘The Arts’ Issue One, Lund Humphries & Co Ltd; London.
The feature comes to a close with a lucid and bright painting by Grant. A matte paper displays the colours in block form and in an array of fresh pastels we are finally introduced to Europa. She lays nude on the back of the Bull, one arm above her head gesturing playfully with a red scarf, the bull moves steadily through the water, expressive of a unity between them.
Two images within the gift show studies for this final print, evidencing differing concepts for the composition of the piece. Grants inspiration from the myth of Europa is clear; where Zeus captures her in the form of white bull and their sexual relationship legitimises Europa’s powerful son, King Minos of Crete.
CHA/P/2626 & CHA/P/2627 Recto. Duncan Grant, designs for ‘Europa and the Bull’ poem by W Rodgers, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust
The piece below is a design that did not make the final print, though it could have been inspiration for the final image used as the same colour palette is evident.
CHA/P/2704 Recto & Verso. Duncan Grant, design for ‘Europa and the Bull’ poem by W Rodgers, inscription “Design for ‘Europa and the Bull’ poem by W Rogers, (sic) c1945”, pencil and gouache on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust
This set of images were not Grants only work produced for the journal; also linked is a study for a front cover of ‘the Arts’ in his usual bold style full of form and movement. Figures appear to be dancing across the pages, acrobatics with circular instruments create motifs repeated throughout the piece displayed in the curves of the male physique and reflected in the text form. We do not know if this was an early study for one of the initial two journals or a suggestion for the next, nevertheless production for ‘the Arts’ was unfortunately discontinued in 1948.
CHA/P/1803 Recto. Duncan Grant, cover design of ‘The Arts’ journal, never produced, watercolour on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust
This week, Charleston celebrates a very special birthday – the 100th birthday of Anne Olivier Bell (née Popham) – Charleston’s President, and a prominent editor . In her 98th year, Mrs Bell received an MBE in honour of her longstanding services to art and literature, and looking back at her remarkable career, it is not difficult to see why.
Anne Olivier Bell, pictured on her centenary birthday party at her Sussex home; Sunday 19th June 2016. Photograph, © The Charleston Trust
Anne Olivier Popham trained as an art historian at the Courtauld Institute in the 1930s. The family had an artistic background; her father, Arthur Ewart Popham, was Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. .
During the second world war, all women were expected to do work of national importance, and Anne Popham was no exception. She was employed by the Ministry of Information as a research assistant in the Photographs and Public Divisions. . In 1945, after the war had ended, she was recruited to join the so-called ‘Monuments Men’, a group of men and women from thirteen different nations who formed the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives branch of the German Control Commission:
‘Many were museum directors, curators, art historians, architects and educators. Together they worked together to protect monuments and other cultural treasures from the destruction of World War II. In the last year of the War, they tracked, located, and in the years that followed returned more than five million artistic and cultural items stolen by Hitler and the Nazis. Their role in preserving cultural treasures was without precedent.’
[Robert Edsel, Founder and Chairman of the Board for the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art]
In November that year, Miss Popham was posted to the MFAA Branch of the Control Commission based in Bünde, Westphalia in the British zone, where she co-ordinated the Branch Officers’ work. Her diaries from this two-year period, now preserved in the Imperial War Museum, chart the purposeful pace in which she and her colleagues carried out this stressful work.. As she recalls: ‘There was always a great deal of tension between the needs of the Military and the requirements of the Monuments Officers, especially in the invasion of France…’
In 1947 Popham returned to London, where she worked in the Exhibitions Department of the Arts Council of Great Britain (formed after the Second World War by John Maynard Keynes, who was appointed the first official Chair). Here, her proven flair for scholarship proved useful in her editing of exhibition catalogues.
It was not long afterwards that Olivier met Quentin, the son of the renowned art critic Clive Bell, , and Vanessa Bell, one half of the Bloomsbury painterly duo, who invited her to Charleston to sit for a portrait.
Quentin Bell was a painter and ceramicist who would later become Professor of Art History at Leeds University, and Professor of History and Theory of Art at Sussex University. In the 1960s Anne Olivier Bell worked with her husband on the first authorised biography of Virginia Woolf, published in 1972. This was followed by the publication of Woolf’s five-volume 1915-19 diaries, which she edited over the years between 1977 – 1984. These diaries, in their published form, have become a primary resource for the study and appreciation of Woolf and Bloomsbury.In recognition of this work Olivier Bell has received honorary doctorates from Sussex and York universities.
CHA/E/41 Recto. Poster, a 1978 poster of Virginia Woolf advertising the publication of Volume 2 of her letters by the Hogarth Press, edited by Anne Oliver Bell. Photograph © The Charleston Trust
Anne Popham’s only encounter with Virginia Woolf was fleeting; she recalls noticing ‘this beautiful lady in a red silk dress’ at a Bloomsbury party. Vanessa Bell’s painting, ‘The Garden Room at Charleston’, captures perfectly the atmosphere of Anne Olivier Popham’s early visits to Charleston. The French windows are open to the garden, bright and lush, and one can sense the warmth of the afternoon. Miss Popham is the figure depicted sitting in a chair, turned towards the garden. In picturing this summery scene, it is easy to imagine the draw of the idyllic countryside to a London girl. Although she remembers feeling slightly daunted by the witty intellectuals with their interesting talk, she formed a good relationship with the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Quentin Bell was also charmed by her, and asked her if he could model her head in clay. They were married in 1952.
CHA/P/1567 Recto. Vanessa Bell, The Garden Room at Charleston, painting. Photograph © The Charleston Trust
CHA/SC/22 Recto. Quentin Bell, Bust, ‘Head of Olivier Bell’, terracotta. Photograph © The Charleston Trust
In 1953, Vanessa Bell painted Anne Olivier Bell’s portrait again. The new Mrs Bell holds herself upright, her gaze directed thoughtfully into the distance. She is smartly dressed and looks dignified, and the same can be said about the recent photograph of her, taken 63 years later in the garden of her Sussex home at her centenary birthday party. Some things are timeless.
CHA/P/1567 Recto. Vanessa Bell, Portrait of Olivier Bell, ‘Olivier Bell’, circa 1953, painting. Photograph © The Charleston Trust
Lives and loves at Charleston have always aroused interest. The Bloomsbury group famously ‘loved in triangles’ often swapping friends for lovers and then back again, though part of its history that garners less space in its extensive writing is Bloomsbury’s queer heritage.
Virginia Woolf, although married to Leonard Woolf, had a relationship with English poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West. A writer who wrote openly about queer relationships within in her novels, Woolf has been retrospectively labelled one of the most influential queer authors of the early 20th century. Woolf’s Orlando (1928) is a story about a young man who wakes up to find himself in a woman’s body and features two married women who embark on a long and romantic affair. Orlando is believed to include five queer characters and discusses thoughtfully and importantly, sexual and gender ‘nonconformity’.
CHA/P/2655 Recto. Duncan Grant, study of a male nude seated, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust
Duncan Grant had sexual relationships with Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes, Arthur Hobhouse, David Garnett and Adrian Stephen (though this is certainly not an exhaustive list). His sexuality informs much of his art, often portraying strong male nudes, many post-coital and occasionally erotic in nature. These images are beautiful evidences of his sexual and aesthetic desires.
CHA/P/2656 Recto. Duncan Grant, study of a male nude lying on back, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust
Grant’s appreciation of the male (and female) form is evident in his work, much of his artistic oeuvre is absorbed in the human body and its movement. His creative production was one of the ways Grant expressed his identity at a time when established assumptions about gender and sexuality were both discriminatory and dangerous. Consequently, Grant is to be featured in a ‘Queer British Art’ exhibition at the Tate Britain in 2017, marking the 50 year anniversary of the decriminalization of male homosexuality in England. The queer heritage of Bloomsbury is also celebrated at Charleston, whether it be through guided tours, new research, or special events. LGBTQ narratives at Charleston specifically relating to Grant are not made to define his work, but to contextualize it. Many of his sketches and paintings show significant intimacy and interpretations of these works would be impossible in ignorance of the artist’s sexuality.
CHA/P/2666 Recto. Duncan Grant, study of two male nudes, pen on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust
Museums roles have been fundamentally changing in recent years, and now much of their value is centered as agents of social change. Museums can, in many ways, contribute to a less prejudiced society; in providing context for contemporary issues they can share a narrative of the world and the past which is more inclusive of all citizens. Finally awarding a visible history to groups that have been for generations consistently marginalized, can go some way to promote and begin a process of healing.
CHA/P/2671 Recto. Duncan Grant, study of a male nude standing, pen on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust
Charleston both acknowledges and celebrates its queer heritage; within house tours this information is inseparable from the history of the place and its occupants. In 2010 a podcast was created exploring aspects of Duncan Grant’s life as a gay man. Previously unpublished interviews with Duncan Grant from 1969, together with new recordings by gay men who visited the house in the 1960s and 1970s, investigated the history of the house at this time as well as Charleston’s place within a wider queer history. In the summer of every year Charleston holds a ‘Gay Outing’ in conjunction with Brighton pride; a popular event which holds talks, film screenings, panel discussions and tours, all with LGBTQ focus.
For those who are regular readers of the The Charleston Attic blog, and have been following our progress as the newest Attic Interns through our work with the Angelica Garnett Gift, it may be of interest to hear that we have been spending some time away from the collection and from the attic in favour of the annual Charleston Festival.
Our festival roles took us downstairs through the house and into the kitchen. In keeping with the annual Festival tradition of curatorial services-turned-catering, we became fully immersed in our duties as ‘Green Room Hosts’; preparing for, receiving and generally looking after our guests with gusto. Perhaps we could have been seen as following in the footsteps of Grace Higgens (albeit for a very brief period), who worked tirelessly for over fifty years in the kitchen at Charleston.
Axel Hesslenberg, The kitchen at Charleston. Photograph, The Charleston Trust © Axel Hesslenberg
Grace, who worked for the Bell family and at Charleston as a housemaid, nurse, cook and housekeeper, was regarded by Quentin Bell as ‘being mostly in the kitchen’. Grace’s daughter-in-law, Diana Higgens, who first visited her at Charleston in 1952, also recalled; ‘Grace spen[ding] long hours in the kitchen…’ Of Grace’s kitchen duties, she recalls that she was constantly busy; ‘…the Aga was her only means of cooking and had to be stoked up night and morning with coke. The kitchen had a concrete floor that she washed most days with a mop and bucket…The sink was an old yellow stone one, with a wooden draining board and a plate rack above to drain the plates off.’
Whilst the kitchen was altered quite a bit in the 1980s during the restoration, it has nearly always been used as a working kitchen from the days that the Bell family occupied Charleston. A photograph of it after the restoration, taken by Alan MacWeeney in the late 1990s, for the book, ‘Charleston: a Bloomsbury house and garden’, shows that the post-war modern adaptations, such as the refrigerator and Aga, acquired when Grace was working there, still serve as adequate when the kitchen is used for entertaining today.
From her visits, Diana Higgens remembered that, ‘The kitchen…was warm and always smelt of fresh coffee.’ We can report that there was not a dissimilar atmosphere present in this room during the Festival! Despite the fact that this room has always been used as a kitchen, what has changed about the original function is that meals are now eaten in here as opposed to the dining room, where the family and their guests ate.
In addition to its prevailing homely and comfortable atmosphere, which Quentin Bell described as ‘cheerful and convivial’, what also remains unchanged about the kitchen at Charleston is the amount of people around the table. When she worked there, Grace always had visitors, including the postman, who would stop for a chat and a cup of tea. Virginia Nicholson pronounces it, ‘a most welcoming place to spend time.’; as a child, she and her siblings would ‘help her [Grace] bake and scrape out the bowl afterwards.’ Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell were also not averse to entering the kitchen on a regular basis. In taking charge of the running of the household, Vanessa Bell would come down at the beginning of each day to discuss meal and other requirements with Grace, and Duncan Grant would often gather the plates after a meal and bring them in from the dining room into the kitchen for Grace to clean.
Axel Hesslenberg, Tiled plaque situated behind the Aga cooker, made by Quentin Bell as a testimony to Grace Higgens’ devotion to Charleston; the kitchen at Charleston. Photograph, The Charleston Trust © Axel Hesslenberg
Despite the observed formalities between the family and Grace when she worked for them, she was, according to Quentin Bell, ‘a central figure in ‘Bloomsbury…coping [within her role] in the most amicable manner with the eccentricities and vagaries of artists and their friends.’ The tiled plaque dedicated to Grace behind the Aga in the kitchen made by Quentin Bell after her retirement from Charleston is a recognition of her faithfulness to the family. It reads: ‘She was a good friend to all Charlestonians.’
Tony Tree, Grace Higgens, who sits in front of her portrait painted by Vanessa Bell in 1943, Photograph © The British Library
From our time working in the kitchen at Charleston, we have gained an insight into how it was run as a household. We have also had the privilege of hosting a variety of fascinating guests; it really has been a pleasure to be a part of this year’s festival.
Certainly we have more of an appreciation for Grace; for the extent of her duties and for the long hours that she must have worked. Without her services, it would have been impossible for Bell and Grant to produce the work that they did, and with that thought in mind we return to our work with the collection.
Vanessa Bell née Stephen was born on this day in 1879. A key member in the creation of the Bloomsbury aesthetic, Vanessa was a prolific worker and over the course of her life produced vast quantities of paintings, drawings, interior design and furniture decorations, woodcuts, book covers, textile and crockery designs. There is a large portion of her work in the AG Gift, spanning from her earliest days at Charleston to her death in 1961.
CHA/P/606 Vanessa Bell. Sketchbook. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
Today, on the day of Vanessa Bells birthday, we are sharing works found in Charleston archives, that celebrate the legacy she left here.
CHA/P/174 Recto. Vanessa Bell, The Kitchen, c.1943, painting. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
Painted from inside Charleston this image shows a young Grace Higgins, Charleston’s housekeeper (1920-70), in the kitchen preparing a meal. A basket of fresh vegetables from the garden lay in the foreground these would have been an important part of supplementing rations during wartime. With the help of Grace, Vanessa ran an orderly and welcoming household and Grace’ work meant that Vanessa could paint full time.
CHA/P/2501 Recto. Vanessa Bell, print of classical scene in Rome, ink on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
Vanessa’s travels are well documented in the gift and she explored France, Italy and England often in the summertime. Painted during a trip to Rome this image shows a picturesque scene of a church with sculptures that stand on plinths in front of its facade. Vanessa was inspired by both the classical architecture and art of these destinations. Many classical figures and studies are featured within sketchbooks in the gift.
CHA/DEC/3 Vanessa Bell, Fireplace early 19th Century, painted 1925-30, marble. Photograph © The Charleston Trust
This colourful and modern fireplace painted between 1925 and 1930 shows Vanessa’s skill in abstracted domestic design. Proudly displaying her cross hatching and circular motif this playful piece is perhaps a quinessential example of Bloomsbury design aesthetic. Situated in Clive Bell’s study this is one of the first objects visitors view when visiting Charleston today.
In 1910, at the age of twenty-five, Duncan Grant’s career began to take off. His work was beginning to be recognized, having been shown more widely, and the period of 1908-11 is viewed as being one of rapid productivity for Grant as an artist. ‘He was always very productive,’ Douglas Blair Turnbaugh wrote, ‘[Though] at this time…in his early twenties, his creative genius was beginning to be recognized, and he was considered a leading contributor to the Post-Impressionist movement in England…he had [already] a thorough understanding of French and Italian schools of the past, and highly developed technical skills.’
Richard Shone cites ‘[Grant’s] early portraits of his friends and… relations [as] encapsulate[ing] the sound technical accomplishment [that]he had achieved by his early twenties.’ In 1908, after returning from Paris where he had studied classical painting in the Louvre, Grant was residing at 21 Fitzroy Square in London. It was here that he seriously began painting portraits. As Blair Turnbaugh observed; ‘He took a studio near Belsize Park Gardens and began a series of brilliant portraits of everybody within his reach, including…new friends, and many relatives ….’ In his studio on the first floor, Grant invited friends and family to pose for his painting and drawings to save the expense of hiring professional models. He liked to photograph his models, and ‘These photographs were references for some of Duncan’s erotic drawings and paintings’, as erotic photography was back then illegal and utmost discretion was essential.
Grant also posed naked himself for photographs to be taken in his studio. Between 1909 and 1911, he produced of succession ‘youthful’ self-portraits that, in characteristic face-on, close-up style, were ‘intimate and direct’, as identified by Shone. In choosing to portray himself unabashedly, his apparent ease could be seen as a reflection of the intense pleasure he was experiencing in his personal life.
Grant and John Maynard Keynes were lovers during the early years of Grant’s initial critical acclaim, and they remained so until about 1910. Happily, this relatively brief romantic period of theirs did not deter their friendship, which prevailed until Keynes’ death. Grant’s biographer Frances Spalding thought it telling of Grant and Keynes’ relationship that, ‘…when he reminisced about th[eir] affair, Duncan gave his close friend Paul Roche the impression that Keynes ‘was closer than anyone except perhaps Vanessa [Bell], and even closer than her in some respects…in the uncluttered recognition one male can have for another.’
Indeed; ‘The significance of Maynard for Duncan went very deep and in old age…Before the end of [that] June [of 1914] he had fallen in love with Maynard and experienced an immediacy of rapport greater than he had ever known.’ This relationship would no doubt have heightened Grant’s sense of creativity s as he became more confident with his sexuality. As Spalding put it, ‘Maynard…liberated Duncan through his own attraction to the genuine and that which was without pretence.’ It helped greatly that Keynes himself had been in a liberal environment when he was a student, ‘[at] Kings College Cambridge [where] homosexuality ha[d] become…rampant.’ in the early 1900s.
Years later, when Roche sat as a model for Grant, Roche observed how he worked, and saw that in his style, Grant had what he saw as a ‘determination not to please [aesthetically] except by telling the truth, and telling the truth through the intransigent beauty of paint,’ Perhaps an element of the openness that Keynes had shared with Grant had found itself within Grant’s portraiture style as he captured his chosen sitters.
In the summer of 1910, Grant and Keynes holidayed together in Greece and Turkey, and took delight in photographing each other naked against the backdrop of the aged classical landscape. Christopher Reed saw the activity of picture-taking as Keynes’ and Grants’ way of ‘enacting the links they perceived between ancient and modern homoeroticism.’, and this was therefore a kind of an affirmation of sexuality; ‘…free of the repressive structures of [their] own culture[s].’
For Grant, it would have brought into clearer focus through the lens in his mind, the image of the classical male nude; ‘out of doors,.’ Bathing (1911) captures Grant’s idealised version of the male nude, aptly classicized in following of his preferred artistic style. The work was praised; namely, The Spectator remarked that, ‘…the figure scrambling into the boat in the background is a noble piece of draughtsmanship…[the work] gives an extraordinary impression of the joys of lean athletic life.’ Grant hired a model which he photographed in his studio in preparation for the work, allowing him the freedom as well as the accuracy to produce the life-size panorama that came to be so successful.
Duncan Grant’s relationships with his models have been much looked at and written about, as they are interesting and complex; they were an integral part of his work and life. Though he made studies of men and women alike; ‘Integral to his creative process…attractive men were as vital a source for Duncan ‘s creative imagination as women were for Picasso’s.”, and he drew his lovers.
The sitters depicted in these sketches of his that we have unearthed this week as part of the Angelica Garnett Gift are less familiar to us. Grant used numerous models in his work throughout his lifetime; some who were paid, though many were family, friends, close or acquaintances.
The two sketches of the female nudes are drawn with their heads turned away from us; their bodies twisted slightly away from the way they are facing, a pose subtly characteristic of Grant’s nudes. These two females were paid models who sat for Grant in about 1930. As a more established artist, Grant would have been able to afford to do this more than he had done so in his early career. The two sketches of the male nudes, both signed and dated, are of friends of their artist. Their inscriptions; ‘Mark, Charleston, 4th June ‘70’, and, ‘EC Farah, ‘65’, refer to the model, date and the place they were done. (Charleston, in the case of the 1970 drawing), as stylistically, we can attribute the works to Grant although he did not sign them.
From the relaxed way they hold themselves, as well as the intimate perspectives from which they are drawn, there is the sense that all of the sitters felt comfortable exposing themselves to Grant for the sake of his art, as was often the case. The sense of truth expressed in the body laid bare is heightened when it is expressed by creative means, and Duncan Grant made no secret in asserting his creativity.
Of the last descendant of Bloomsbury’s ‘inner-circle’, an impressive obituary of 4th May 2012 remarks that Angelica’s parentage gave her a ‘double share of Bloomsbury inheritance.’ The only child of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Angelica Vanessa Garnett was a talented woman. Undoubtedly affected by her parents’ artistic talents and her unconventional upbringing at Charleston, Angelica’s vast resume encompassed writer, painter, performer, ceramicist and sculptor.
CHA/P/1643 Angelica Garnett. Two children sat at table. Painting. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
Born at Charleston on Christmas Day of 1918 Angelica’s arrival marked the end of the war as well as the end of her parent’s sexual relationship; however, her birth tied them together in a significant way, perhaps a reason for living and working together for the remainder of their lives.
Angelica grew up being doted on by her mother, though her paternal relationships were a little more complicated; growing up believing that her father, like her brothers, was Clive Bell. Angelica was informed of her true parentage at the age of 18, upon sternly being advised not to mention the subject again. Where Vanessa perhaps believed that her child had the love of two fathers, Angelica wrote that ‘in reality,’ she ‘had none’. Her widely acclaimed memoir of this period Deceived with Kindness, the experience of growing up at the centre of the Bloomsbury Group, is considered an important part of the set’s social literature.
CHA/P/1642 Angelica Garnett. Woodland animals by stream. Watercolour and Pencil on Paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
Angelica’s legacy does not end with literature. Many of her early art works (often produced in collaboration with Vanessa) can still be viewed at Charleston, a special example displayed in the spare bedroom. Her sketchbooks also form part of Charleston’s archive, containing fashion design, pattern design and still lives. Recognising and promoting Charleston as a place of significant artistic heritage, Angelica and her brother Quentin’s gift of the house to the Trust along with their tireless work during its period of restoration in the 1980s was instrumental in securing a future for Charleston post-Bloomsbury.
CHA/P/2437 /21 Angelica Garnett. Waistcoat design. Pencil on Paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
Aside from the estate, perhaps Angelica’s biggest legacy is the Angelica Garnett Gift, a collection of over 8000 works on paper and canvas. The pieces, mainly works by her parents, had previously filled the drawers, cupboards and studios at Charleston. After Duncan Grant’s death they were held in London at an art storage facility and were largely unseen for nearly 30 years. In 2008 these works were gifted to The Trust, and the exciting work of discovery began. Previously unpublished, this inspiring collection teaches us about the artistic practices and evolution of two internationally acclaimed artists.
CHA/P/2437/5 Angelica Garnett. Domestic pattern, red and blue crown with green leaves. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
The Gift continues to encourage new insights into Bloomsbury’s creative processes and engages us (the attic interns) in the museum documentation processes of cataloguing, digitalizing, conservation and research. Angelica’s gift to Charleston was generous and significant; with it she leaves an important legacy, one that celebrates her family, their work and more intimately, their lives.
CHA/P/2436/17 Angelica Garnett. Moored boats by trees and houses. Watercolour on Paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
An inscription featured on the verso of this object allows us a glimpse into what its image might conceal. The address of Omega Workshops Ltd. ‘33 Fitzroy Square’ is inscribed on the paper. This firm, which was directors’ Roger Fry, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bells’ first experiment in commercial domestic design, was in a way a patronage of their recognisably bold modernist design aesthetic.
With roots in many aspects of the Arts and Crafts movement, which developed at the end of the 19th century, Omega, established in 1913, sought to remove perceived divisions between the decorative and fine arts. Designing and producing furniture, textiles, painted murals and household goods; the Omega Workshops became a method through which Fry could employ and encourage artistic work from many of his friends and acquaintances. The aesthetic of Omega was largely Post-Impressionist, however numerous other influences become apparent when studying the breadth of work produced in their short period of trading.
CHA/P/2622. Omega pattern design. Gouache on graph paper. Recto. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
Standing alone, as a piece of art usually must, the design is modern, geometric and angular in composition. Its circles, arranged in context like cogs revolving in a mechanical engine seem an influence at odds with the arts and crafts ethos, one of Vorticist and Cubo-Futurist movements of the period. These sought to capture speed and energy with an interest in the mechanics and dynamics of the modern age.
A couple of words scattered on the back of the piece craft a complex history of its authorship; these read ‘Not by VB. Fry?’. Inscribed in pencil as lightly as the comment is unsure of itself, they are markings of a number of possible viewers. We know Grant signed many works retrospectively in the 1960s (sometimes even signing the work of others, often attributing work to ‘VB’), both for exhibition and sale. Previous to the Angelica Garnett collection being gifted to Charleston, others would have had access to the works so this inscription could have been penned by a viewer after Grant’s death. The letters on the recto of the image (written contemporaneously) seem to spell ‘soiree’ which could be the authors title for the piece, and below a three letter initial which matches none of the known members’ signatures. According to the inscriptions on the verso, the latter authority must have agreed, and attributes the image (uncertainly) to Roger Fry.
CHA/P/2622. Blank page with inscriptions; ‘Not by VB. Fry?’ and ’33 Fitzroy Square’. Verso. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.
The design is painted in gouache on graph paper; the squared canvas allowing for precise straight lines and calculated geometric pattern. Additionally, this material could have been used to accommodate a better translation into a rug, cushion or textile design. Omega artists produced patterns and these unusual designs had to be translated, often creatively, by manufacturers. Omega rug designs were thought to be manufactured by English firm ‘The Royal Wilton Carpet Factory’ who opened a London office in 1913. To ensure products were bought for their aesthetic appeal and quality, and not for the reputation of the artist or designer, works were not signed individually. Works were marked only by the letter ‘Ω’. This could be why the design appears not to be signed by any known Omega textile artist.
It is possible that this piece was created by Frederick Etchells, painter and founding member of the Omega workshops, following that many of his works on canvas were highly geometrical in style. In 1913, during production of works for Omega, Etchells worked closely and in collaboration with Duncan Grant in Grant’s London studio. Etchells decision to leave the guild at the end of that year was followed by his joining Wyndham Lewis’ Vorticists, a group that were in opposition to Omega. Though Etchells soon gave up painting and became a successful architect, this preliminary work certainly shows a sense of the architectural, featuring blocks built on top of one another with relief-like circular and square forms structured into the image.
Although the written signature is missing here; the signing ultimately is in the work, where paint and painter combine to produce a corporeal object and image standing in for the body and then name of the painter. We can only speculate as to who the author is but this preliminary design for a textile shows a vision for domestic design that remains modern 100 years after its production.