The Charleston Attic

Month: May, 2014

‘The studio was the citadel of the house’ (Angelica Garnett)

Flower sketch, unattrib. CHA-P-594-29

We’ve now got to grips with the process of photographing the archive. Here are some beautifully expressive, and serendipitously spring-like designs we found in an undated, unattributed sketchbook. Bell?, or Grant? Or – as later in the book – one of their grandchildren? The detective work begins!


The flat sweeping ovals of the leaf shapes here are characteristic of Grant’s designs from the Omega onwards, e.g. the 1912-13 ‘Embroidered Firescreen’; whilst the pea-like rows of small circles, and naïve flower heads bring to mind his fabric design for the Queen Mary of 1937.

 We suspect that this beautiful watercolour sketch of Duncan Grant in the studio, from the same sketchbook, may have been painted by one of the house guests at Charleston:

Grant in the studio, CHA-P-594-62

We would welcome comments on who you think may have created these works.

Moving into the attic: 75 years on


Door frame decorations, Vanessa Bell’s studio, Charleston


In April of 1939, Vanessa Bell turned the attic bedroom at Charleston into her studio. Away from the rest of the house, it provided a peaceful setting in which she could work. A tall window was installed, which let in the northern light, and reveals a view of the garden, the farmer’s fields and the Sussex Weald in the distance.

Vanessa Bell’s grand daughter, Henrietta who sat for her on a number of occasions in the attic studio remarks how the room was emblematic of Vanessa’s disposition:

I think it is indicative of her character that… she worked at the top of the house. I believe that the view was essential to her. She needed light. She needed distant horizons. She was a woman with very clear views of her own. For Nessa could shock, astonish, leave one giddy with her point of view… Being alone with her in the upper studio was sometimes like looking at life from the height of a campanile tower.[1]

75 years after Vanessa Bell set up her attic studio, we are moving into this room to catalogue the Angelica Garnett Gift. The view she looked out on has remained largely unchanged, as have the decorations around the door frame (shown in the picture above), that she painted in 1939, giving an intimation of the woman who worked here, as well as providing a stimulating environment in which to work.

Vanessa Bell’s Self-portrait, painted in this upstairs studio in 1952, shows her working at an easel with the window behind her, surrounded by her artist’s accoutrements. As in the painting, the attic room still stores a number of canvases but space has been cleared to make way for the conservation and cataloguing of the Angelica Garnett Gift.

Angelica Garnett, Vanessa Bell’s daughter, described her mother as ‘in heaven’ working in the attic studio: our arrival in the attic on the 75th anniversary of it becoming Bell’s studio seems an auspicious start to the project.[2]

[1] Quentin Bell and Virginia Nicholson, Charleston, a Bloomsbury house and garden. (London: Frances Lincoln, 1997), p.78.

[2] Ibid.


%d bloggers like this: