The Charleston Attic

Month: June, 2014

Great Men’s Houses

In her essay ‘Great Men’s Houses’ Virginia Woolf discussed the ways in which the Carlyles’ presence could still be felt at their London home after it became a museum. Woolf was of the opinion that the difficulties of the house, or ‘battlefield’, contributed significantly to the personalities of its occupants and that: ‘One hour spent in 5 Cheyne Row will tell us more about them and their lives than we can learn from all the biographies.’[1]


Influenced by her older sister, Vanessa Bell, Woolf invested a good deal of time, energy and money decorating her own homes. Hermione Lee writes that when the Woolfs moved into Monk’s House at Rodmell in 1919 ‘the relics’ belonging to former occupants ‘began to be mixed up with dark blue Omega plates on a green kitchen dresser, paintings by Duncan and Vanessa, and strong-coloured wall paints (pomegranate, green, yellow, blue) applied by Virginia.’[2] As time passed, they added:


carpets and china and screens, armchairs and cushions, all designed at Charleston. They bought mirrors in decorated canvas frames, cupboards and tables from Provence. There would be a painted dining table with chairs and a painted music cabinet from the music room designed at the Lefevre Gallery by Duncan and Vanessa in 1932. There would be a gramophone and a wireless, a fish tank, a box of bowls. The style of the furnishings was very similar, in places identical, to the sister house at Charleston.[3]


 The similarities to Charleston are noticeable in items of furniture and decorative motifs. The image below is a design found in one of the painters’ sketchbooks in the Angelica Garnett gift that would not look out of place at either home. The form and shapes recall the canvas-work mirror frame in the dining room at Monk’s House, designed by Grant and worked by his mother, and given to the Woolf’s for Christmas 1937.


However, there are also marked differences, such as the prevalent use of green (Woolf asked Bell: ‘Would I be allowed some rather garish but vibrating and radiating green and red lustres’)[4], whereas Charleston walls tend to be painted in colours designed to offset artworks. Woolf believed that:


it would seem to be a fact that writers stamp themselves upon their possessions more indelibly than other people. Of artistic taste they may have none; but they seem always to possess a much rare and more interesting gift – a faculty for housing themselves appropriately, for making the table, the chair, the curtain, the carpet into their own image.[5]


Her own possessions, and the quirky arrangements at Monk’s House seem to bear this trace of their owner, and a set of dining chairs painted by Bell and Grant are even physically stamped with her initials as shown in the image below.



[1]Virginia Woolf, ‘Great Men’s Houses’, The London Scene (London: Hogarth Press, 1982), p.25; Ibid., p.23.

[2]Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf (London: Chatto & Windus, 1996), p.424.


[4]VW to VB, 13th June, 1936, Letters III, 1647, p.273.

[5]Virginia Woolf, ‘Great Men’s Houses’, The London Scene (London: Hogarth Press, 1982), p.25; Ibid., p.23.

Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation

‘Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation’, an exhibition currently on show at the Tate Britain, explores Clark’s multifarious roles as a patron, collector, art historian, public servant and broadcaster. Clark supported and promoted contemporary British artists, and amongst the artists he favoured were Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. An exhibition text panel draws attention to the friendship between the artists and their patron, noting how in his memoirs Clark described Bell and Grant as ‘the first of our artist friends’.

Works on display in order of appearance:

Duncan Grant Study for a Portrait of Lady Clark c.1932. Pencil on paper 61 x 53cm. Private Collection

Vanessa Bell Design for a plate: Queen Christina of Sweden 1932. Pencil and watercolour on paper 58 x 56.5cm. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Vanessa Bell Mme la Marquise de Caux, Adelina Patti 1932. set Ceramic 25.5 x 25.5 x 2cm. The Charleston Trust (see image below)

Vanessa Bell S.A.I. La Princess Mathilda 1932. Plate from ‘Famous Ladies’ set. Ceramic 25.5 x 25.5 x 2cm. The Charleston Trust

Vanessa Bell Queen Mary 1932. Plate from ‘Famous Ladies’ set. Ceramic 25.5 x 25.5 x 2cm. The Charleston Trust

Duncan Grant Design for Plate: Virginia Woolf c.1932. Pencil, ink, wash on paper 42.7 x 39cm. Private Collection

Duncan Grant Design for Plate: Sarah Churchill c.1932. Ink and wash on paper 43 x 39cm. Private Collection

Duncan Grant Unidentified subject Plate from ‘Famous Ladies’ set c.1932. Ceramic 25.5 x 25.5 x 2cm. The Charleston Trust

Duncan Grant Four designs for plates: Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, Greta Garbo and Mrs Patrick Campbell c.1932. Pencil, ink and wash on paper 58 x 56.5cm. Private Collection

Duncan Grant Rug c.1932. Wool 180 x 127cm. Private Collection

Duncan Grant Three-Fold Screen c.1930. Painted wood 133 x 190 x 2cm (each: 61cm wide). Private Collection

Duncan Grant Wedgwood creamware jug incorporating portraits of Kenneth and Jane Clark 1932. Ceramic 27 x 24.5 x 20cm. Private Collection

Duncan Grant Wedgwood creamware jug incorporating a childhood portrait of Alan Clark 1932. Ceramic 22 x 20.5 x 16cm. Private Collection

Duncan Grant Self-Portrait 1925. Oil on canvas 46 x 38cm. Private Collection

Duncan Grant After Zurbarán c.1928. Oil on canvas 62 x 15.3cm. Private Collection

Vanessa Bell Portrait of Angelica as a Russian Princess [dated 1928 in the exhibition catalogue; 1931 is the inscription on the painting]Oil on canvas 59 x 39cm. Private Collection

Vanessa Bell Self-Portrait c.1958 Oil on canvas 48.3 x 39.4 x 2cm. The Charleston Trust

Through cataloguing and researching the Angelica Garnett Gift, it has been possible to examine Bell and Grant’s working processes, and find out more about the different styles and subject matter they chose. As in the exhibition, there is evidence in the Gift of their interest in decorative work, self-portraits, and portraits of friends and family.



Fyfe Robertson sketch

Described by broadcaster and presenter Stuart Cosgrove, as ‘probably one of the first and greatest Scottish broadcasters’, Fyfe Robertson was a journalist and reporter whose career spanned roughly 60 years from 1919 – 1982.[1] In 1964, Robertson presented the television programme ‘Brush Off the Dust’, in which he visited several British museums, commenting on their collections.

Duncan Grant had a television by 1964, and as his biographer Frances Spalding notes, it ‘had become embedded in the clutter of the studio and a part of Duncan Grant’s working life, for he liked drawing the newscaster or people being interviewed.'[2] This sketch (shown below) might be dated to around 1964, a date found on a receipt in the sketchbook. It suggests that Grant either saw broadcasts on television by Robertson, and drew this image from it, or encountered him in person, although there is no mention in biographies of Grant that the near contemporaries ever met.



[2] Duncan Grant, Frances Spalding (London: Chatto & Windus, 1997), p.462 


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