Moving into the attic: 75 years on

by charlestonattic


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.