‘cutting a dash’ at Glyndebourne

The Charlstonians occasionally visited neighbouring Glyndebourne, where they had a thoroughly good time. ‘Angelica insisted on cutting a dash’ on their trip in 1936, coercing her mother into making a dress ‘of the most startling description’.[1] Vanessa Bell described the outfit, and the impact Angelica made, in a letter to her son Julian who was living in China:

She would wear, and I had to make, a dress of the most startling description. I don’t suppose you remember, but I used to have a dress made from the most brilliant crimson brocade, bought years ago in Rome, a really staggering stuff. I hadn’t worn it of course for years and it had been taken to pieces, but I made it up again for her, and with it she had a vermilion shawl – and roses from the garden – and red lips – and her skin looked almost green. Altogether the effect were blinding and did in face cause a good deal of sensation. The Clarks were there and said she much come to a party to be given by Sam Courtauld, to which Duncan and I have been asked, and they’d get her an invitation to it. So I suppose she’ll impress London next. Mary Hutchinson was there too and I saw looking at her with some astonishment and perhaps not altogether approval. But most people were obviously impressed by her beauty.[2]

Angelica, however, was not the only scene-stealer that evening. Bell had spotted a triumvirate of their associates ‘looking too peculiar’, guzzling brandy that Kenneth Clark had ordered for Duncan ‘greatly to K’s astonishment and indeed horror.’ The best was yet to come, with Bell revealing ‘I too am said to have disgraced myself’:

Feeling slightly merry, I improvised a song suitable to the occasion, “What shall we do with a broken tumbler” which I sang in a spirited manner, unaware that at the back of our archway was a door leading to the professional singers’ apartments, and that through this door was peering a startled young man. The rest of the family was aware of him however and became convulsed with laughter, which I took only as a compliment to my song, and so continued gaily, till at last a whole troop of professionals came through and I had to pull myself together and behave as a polite lady making way for them past our broken tumblers and sandwiches.[3]

Bell concludes the anecdote about Glyndebourne by telling her absent son: ‘Altogether it was a successful evening and the music was divine.’[4]

The artists were incredibly fond of music and theatrical performances, and images of instruments can be found throughout the AGG. Sketch book 598 captures many quickly rendered images of dancers and performers, as well as these pictures of musicians in action:


[1] Vanessa Bell to Julian Bell, Sunday 5th July 1936, Selected Letters of Vanessa Bell, ed. Regina Marler (London: Bloomsbury, 1993), p.416.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., p.417.

[4] Ibid.