The Charleston Attic

Category: Feminism

Charleston Attic Spotlight Talks

As our days in the attic draw to a close, so too does this significant project. Being the last in a series of Curatorial Interns over the past 3 years, we take a moment to reflect on the achievements of our residency. In six months we have completed cataloguing and archiving the final 3,600 objects, something which at the start of our tenure seemed like a daunting challenge. Having seen such a vast array of sketches, paintings and unfinished works, our own interests in the collection were bound in intrigue and a desire to know more.

With the end of our tenure comes a free spotlight talk, where we each discuss an area of research that has been inspired by the Angelica Garnett Gift.  Starting at 1pm on Thursday 28 September 2017, the event will take place in the large marquee at Charleston Farmhouse, Firle. The talks are free and open to all.

The Famous Women Dinner Service:  Fashion, Modernism and Identity – Vanessa Jones

Designed by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in 1932 – 1934, the Famous Women Dinner Service re-appeared to the art market earlier this year. As the Angelica Garnett Gift holds nine preliminary sketches of the Famous Women, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to unravel some of the mysteries that go along with this bewildering representation of celebrated women. My research will focus on four of the preparatory sketches exploring their existence mediating between fashion and art history. I establish Bell and Grant as prolific modern artists and unravel the usefulness of using fashion as a tool to date and identify the character on the plate. I also explore the artistic approaches Bell and Grant use, from preliminary sketch to final design.

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CHA/P/1646, Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt for the Famous Women Dinner Service, c. 1933, pencil on card © Charleston Trust

 

Looking inside Vanessa Bell’s Studio – Diana Wilkins

I will be exploring the history of Vanessa Bell’s attic studio. For the last six months the attic studio has been our working space for cataloguing the Angelica Garnett Gift of paintings and drawings by Bell and Duncan Grant. It has been a privilege to work in this unique space which bears tangible traces of Bell’s past presence. I will use photographs and documents from Charleston’s archive to explain why the attic studio was created in 1939, how it was constructed and the influence of the studio environment on Bell’s work in the later stages of her career. I will look at the scope for returning the room to its previous condition once our archiving project has come to an end.

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Vanessa Bell, 1952, The Artist in her Studio, private collection,
© Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy Henrietta Grant

 

 

Many thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund, Elizabeth Keyser Foundation, Michael Marks and the Paul Mellon Centre for supporting this project.

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Queer Heritage at Charleston

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’.

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 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.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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