The Charleston Attic

Category: Portraiture

Angelica in the Studio

This week’s discovery of a child’s drawing in the Gift can be seen to reveal more about the children of Bloomsbury and their involvement in the creative practises of the household.

1.jpg

CHA/P/2806. Recto, Child‘s drawing of female figure wearing a dress and hat, found in the Gift, artist unknown. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

For the generations of children growing up at Charleston, creativity had no bounds. Virginia Nicholson (née Bell), who spent every summer there with her parents, grandparents and Duncan Grant recalls:

 ‘My brother and sister [Julian and Cressida] and I grew up, as did [my father] Quentin and his siblings, with the conviction that Art was something everyone could do. Paint, clay, mud, glue and matches, were all endlessly available. Yet did the inhabitants of Charleston ever really grow up? Charleston ever really grow up? There is a wonderfully uninhibited, irreverent quality to the decoration of the house which is that of a child let loose to experiment and which is extraordinary liberating.’[1] (Bell and Nicholson, 1997, p.6)

Pinned to the Studio mantelpiece are drawings  by the five-year old Virginia that plainly shows her family’s encouragement of her creative imagination. In one, three figures, painstakingly drawn, with extraordinarily audible  expressions, are seated in identical chairs, wearing enormous hats of varying proportions! In another, titled ‘GOING HUNTING’ (labelled in large bold letters at the bottom of the rural landscape suggestive of Charleston’s surrounding countryside), a knight in chainmail  sits astride a horse, it’s  front legs accurately drawn raised in a galloping motion.

paint 1.png

CHA/E/149. Recto, Child‘s drawing, circa 1960,  by Virginia Bell, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

33.png

 

CHA/E/150. Recto, Child‘s drawing , circa 1960, by Virginia Bell, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

 At Charleston, Virginia and her brother, sister and cousins had plenty to stimulate them, with the eclectic range of sights, smells and sounds of Charleston to take in. Virginia recalls her:

  ‘…memories of adventures around the pond, of being painted by Vanessa and Duncan in the studio, of the lovely smell of new cake, books and turpentine that pervaded the house, of crocks of wet clay in the pottery, of dahlias in the garden and sweet lavender drying in the spare rooms.’ (Nicholson, 1997, p.6)

During those first early years at Charleston, its inhabitants found it a challenging and inhospitable place to live; not largely because of the shortage of food and greater isolation out in the country as a result of the War. For Vanessa Bell, who manned the household, the most challenging aspect of this life was juggling practical responsibilities with her painting. To Roger Fry, a close confidant, in April 1917 she wrote: ‘You don’t know how desperate I sometimes get about everything, painting, bringing up the children properly etc.’ In response to this, Fry sent her back a positive reply in his letter, praising her for her, ‘…marvellous practical power [which] has of course really a quality of great imagination in it, because your efficiency comes without fuss. No I don’t think you need ever doubt yourself. You have genius in your life as well as in your art and both are rare things.’

Roger Fry took an interest in Vanessa Bell’s children and how they were brought up. His comment of their mother’s ‘great imagination’, made to her in reassurance of her anxieties expressed to him that she could not both paint and bring up her children well at Charleston, are revealing of his beliefs about the educational philosophy of children in relation to creativity. In 1917, Fry wrote an article for the Burlington Magazine; ‘Children’s Drawings’, highlighting his main belief that, ‘…teaching [of art, to children] destroy[s] completely the[ir] peculiar gifts of representation and design, replacing them with feeble imitations of some contemporary convention.’

Since their move to Charleston in 1916, Vanessa Bell had been worrying about her children’s formal education: should she send Julian and Quentin away to school when they were still young, or would the traditional public school system be constraining to their development? She concluded that she would set up a small school at Charleston and they were initially taught there by a governess. Their mother taught them French and Music, though, interestingly, there is no record of her ever teaching them her own trade. Angelica Garnett also remembered this absence of art lessons at home: in Gordon Square, she was given ‘one painting lesson…[by] Vanessa…the only one [she] ever gave me,’ Perhaps then Bell did share Fry’s view that ‘art cannot…be taught at all [as]…art is a purely subjective affair…everyone is an artist…[and]…children [should be] stimulated to create instead of being inhibited by instruction [as] no modern adult can retain the freshness of vision, the surprise and shock, the intimacy and sharpness of notion…’ like that of a child can.

fairies.jpg

CHA/P/2281. Recto, Child’s drawing, sketches of fairies,  ’37 Gordon Square’, by Angelica Bell,  ink on letter writing paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

 

Judging by the liberal way in which her children were allowed to explore and play, there is no doubt that Bell  gave them free rein to be as creative as they wished. ‘After all,’ Virginia Nicholson wrote ‘Charleston was a place where, for both children and adults, messy creativity was a way of life.’

man.jpg

CHA/P/2263. Recto, Child‘s drawing of male portrait figure wearing yellow military style jacket with medals and sash, titled, ‘his majesty of crimtartary’, artist unknown, found in the Gift. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

 

Whilst creative practises were all-encompassing at Charleston, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant took their individual work as artists extremely seriously. In 1925, a tailor-made studio was constructed for them at Charleston which suited all of their requirements as painters: it needed to have a good natural light, be quiet and therefore removed from the house and garden. The result was, as Vanessa described it shortly afterwards: ‘…the perfect place to work.’

Of the Studio at Charleston, Angelica Garnett wrote; ‘It was the sanctuary in which I spent the most treasured hours of my life…I was both protected and stimulated, without a shadow of responsibility…sitting on the studio floor engrossed in some manual occupation while those patient elders concentrated in their own dreamlike fashion on their art.’

Bell and Grant’s studio, Angelica saw as ‘the citadel of the house’, and as the child of artists, she grew up with a sense of the reverence and devotion her parents gave to the practise of painting, observing them close at hand. Her touchingly innocent observations of what she saw here of the artistic ‘hard work and concentration’, preciously taken to create ‘the most important things’ are vividly described in curious detail, reflective of that of a painters’ eye:

 ‘Easels and paint boxes stood about, brushes, sometimes festooned with cobweb, emerged from jugs or jam jars, palettes and tubes of paint lay on stools and tables, while there was often a bunch of red-hot pokers and dahlias arranged in front of a piece of drapery. The gun-powder-coloured walls were hung with canvases of many shapes and sizes, and some of Duncan’s favourite objects, such as jointed- or rather disjointed- Sicilian wooden horse, a silver table-watch…a fan and perhaps a child’s drawing, could be seen balanced on the mantelpiece or pinned to a spare piece of wall.’ [2] (Garnett, 1984, p.93)

For Roger Fry, ‘This habit of attributing strong emotional values to all the objects surrounding them is what makes the visual life of children so much more vivid and intense than the visual life of almost all grown-up people.’ When Angelica was allowed in the Studio with Bell and Grant, she was under strict instructions not to disturb them whilst they were at work, and there was an unspoken expectation that ‘I should behave like a grown-up.’ However ; ‘I absorbed much of the atmosphere that I afterwards valued.’. Angelica Garnett later went on to be an artist in her own right, attributing these early experiences to her development.

Angelica’s tenacious relationship with her parents as well as their own, intimate relationship (then unbeknown to her), did cause her to struggle with a ‘consuming desire to identify with them.’ The time she spent with them in the studio was therefore treasured. Years after she put pen to paper and wrote about her childhood memories in an attempt to understand her relationship with them better, she looked back on this exercise and asked: ‘What picture had I drawn [of them] and how true was it?’ It is evident that, as an artist, she had looked at things in the same way as her parents had.

stuido ag.jpg

Angelica Vanessa Garnett (née Bell), in her parents’ studio at Charleston, 1979, by Jane Brown. Photograph  © National Portrait Gallery.

 

Was it largely because they were Bloomsbury artists? In her book Deceived With Kindness (1984), Garnett talks about her parents’ ‘detachment’ from their true emotions, citing their ‘lack of physical warmth’ towards her when she was a child as due to the fact that they had kept the truth of her parentage from her. As ‘Bloomsbury, [they] believed and largely practised intellectual tolerance, but often failed to recognize the power of the emotions or the reasoning of the heart.’ Vanessa Bell, mother and artist, had ‘invented the vibrant colours and shapes that [had] surrounded [her children]’, encouraging their free play and creativity, but complex innermost feelings caused her to retreat, and always to her sanctuary, the studio.

vb studio.png

Vanessa Bell painting in her studio at Charleston, 1936. Photograph © Tate Archives

The child’s presence in Bell and Grant’s studio has been evident since Angelica Garnett was small. Drawings that their children had made were pinned to the mantelpiece, and that of their grandchildren’s, some thirty years later. Whilst this childish work (below) is not revealing of any emerging Bloomsbury style of aesthetic, it is a sweet reminder of the sharp inquisitiveness of the Charleston children, busy at work with crayons on tables and floors; creatively inspired, and of how they were always encouraged by their elders.

sssss.jpg

The Studio at Charleston. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

[1] Bell, Q. and Nicholson, B. (1997) Charleston: a Bloomsbury house and garden: Frances Lincoln Limited, London.

[2] Garnett, A. (1995) Deceived With Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood. Pimlico, London.

Advertisements

A Bloomsbury Centenarian: On Anne Olivier Bell’s 100th Birthday

This week, Charleston celebrates a very special birthday – the 100th birthday of Anne Olivier Bell (née Popham) – Charleston’s President, and a prominent editor . In her 98th year, Mrs Bell received an MBE in honour of her longstanding services to art and literature, and looking back at her remarkable career, it is not difficult to see why.

13495117_1521270931304962_3460946581219286778_n[1].jpg

Anne Olivier Bell, pictured on her centenary birthday party at her Sussex home; Sunday 19th June 2016. Photograph, © The Charleston Trust 

 

Anne Olivier Popham trained as an art historian at the Courtauld Institute in the 1930s. The family had an artistic background; her father, Arthur Ewart Popham, was Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. .

During the second world war, all women were expected to do work of national importance, and Anne Popham was no exception. She was employed by the Ministry of Information as a research assistant in the Photographs and Public Divisions. . In 1945, after the war had ended, she was recruited to join the so-called ‘Monuments Men’, a group of men and women from thirteen different nations who formed the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives branch of the German Control Commission:

‘Many were museum directors, curators, art historians, architects and educators. Together they worked together to protect monuments and other cultural treasures from the destruction of World War II. In the last year of the War, they tracked, located, and in the years that followed returned more than five million artistic and cultural items stolen by Hitler and the Nazis. Their role in preserving cultural treasures was without precedent.’

[Robert Edsel, Founder and Chairman of the Board for the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art]

In November that year, Miss Popham was posted to the MFAA Branch of the Control Commission based in Bünde, Westphalia in the British zone, where she co-ordinated the Branch Officers’ work. Her diaries from this two-year period, now preserved in the Imperial War Museum, chart the purposeful pace in which she and her colleagues carried out this stressful work.. As she recalls: ‘There was always a great deal of tension between the needs of the Military and the requirements of the Monuments Officers, especially in the invasion of France…’

In 1947 Popham returned to London, where she worked in the Exhibitions Department of the Arts Council of Great Britain (formed after the Second World War by John Maynard Keynes, who was appointed the first official Chair). Here, her proven flair for scholarship proved useful in her editing of exhibition catalogues.

It was not long afterwards that Olivier met Quentin, the son of the renowned art critic Clive Bell, , and Vanessa Bell, one half of the Bloomsbury painterly duo, who invited her to Charleston to sit for a portrait.

Quentin Bell was a painter and ceramicist who would later become Professor of Art History at Leeds University, and Professor of History and Theory of Art at Sussex University. In the 1960s Anne Olivier Bell worked with her husband on the first authorised biography of Virginia Woolf, published in 1972. This was followed by the publication of Woolf’s five-volume 1915-19 diaries, which she edited over the years between 1977 – 1984. These diaries, in their published form, have become a primary resource for the study and appreciation of Woolf and Bloomsbury.In recognition of this work Olivier Bell has received honorary doctorates from Sussex and York universities.

 

++vw diary poster.jpg

CHA/E/41 Recto. Poster, a 1978 poster of Virginia Woolf advertising the publication of Volume 2 of her letters by the Hogarth Press, edited by Anne Oliver Bell. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

 

Anne Popham’s only encounter with Virginia Woolf was fleeting; she recalls noticing ‘this beautiful lady in a red silk dress’ at a Bloomsbury party. Vanessa Bell’s painting, ‘The Garden Room at Charleston’, captures perfectly the atmosphere of Anne Olivier Popham’s early visits to Charleston. The French windows are open to the garden, bright and lush, and one can sense the warmth of the afternoon. Miss Popham is the figure depicted sitting in a chair, turned towards the garden. In picturing this summery scene, it is easy to imagine the draw of the idyllic countryside to a London girl. Although she remembers feeling slightly daunted by the witty intellectuals with their interesting talk, she formed a good relationship with the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Quentin Bell was also charmed by her, and asked her if he could model her head in clay. They were married in 1952.

 

CHA-P-1567-R_C.jpg

CHA/P/1567 Recto. Vanessa Bell, The Garden Room at Charleston, painting. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

 

+head of olivier bell.jpg

CHA/SC/22 Recto. Quentin Bell, Bust, ‘Head of Olivier Bell’, terracotta. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

 

In 1953, Vanessa Bell painted Anne Olivier Bell’s portrait again. The new Mrs Bell holds herself upright, her gaze directed thoughtfully into the distance. She is smartly dressed and looks dignified, and the same can be said about the recent photograph of her, taken 63 years later in the garden of her Sussex home at her centenary birthday party. Some things are timeless.

+olivier bell, vanessa bell.jpg

CHA/P/1567 Recto. Vanessa Bell, Portrait of Olivier Bell, ‘Olivier Bell’, circa 1953, painting. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

 

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’.

CHA-P-2655-R_cDG
 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.

CHA-P-2656-R_cDG

 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.

CHA-P-2666-R_cDG

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.

CHA-P-2671-R_cDG

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.

On Duncan Grant’s Male Nudes

 

In 1910, at the age of twenty-five, Duncan Grant’s career began to take off. His work was beginning to be recognized, having been shown more widely, and the period of 1908-11 is viewed as being one of rapid productivity for Grant as an artist. ‘He was always very productive,’ Douglas Blair Turnbaugh wrote, ‘[Though] at this time…in his early twenties, his creative genius was beginning to be recognized, and he was considered a leading contributor to the Post-Impressionist movement in England…he had [already] a thorough understanding of French and Italian schools of the past, and highly developed technical skills.’

gm2

Duncan Grant, from various photographs taken by the artist in preparation for his studies, George Leigh Mallory, 1912, 46 Gordon Sqaure, Photographs © Estate of Duncan Grant

 

Richard Shone cites ‘[Grant’s] early portraits of his friends and… relations [as] encapsulate[ing] the sound technical accomplishment [that]he had achieved by his early twenties.’ In 1908, after returning from Paris where he had studied classical painting in the Louvre, Grant was residing at 21 Fitzroy Square in London. It was here that he seriously began painting portraits. As Blair Turnbaugh observed; ‘He took a studio near Belsize Park Gardens and began a series of brilliant portraits of everybody within his reach, including…new friends, and many relatives ….’ In his studio on the first floor, Grant invited friends and family to pose for his painting and drawings to save the expense of hiring professional models. He liked to photograph his models, and ‘These photographs were references for some of Duncan’s erotic drawings and paintings’, as erotic photography was back then illegal and utmost discretion was essential.

vb, mm,

Duncan Grant, preparatory photographs, Vanessa Bell and Molly MacCarthy, 1913, taken in the artists’ studio at 46 Gordon Square, Photographs © Estate of Duncan Grant

 

Grant also posed naked himself for photographs to be taken in his studio. Between 1909 and 1911, he produced of succession ‘youthful’ self-portraits that, in characteristic face-on, close-up style, were ‘intimate and direct’, as identified by Shone. In choosing to portray himself unabashedly, his apparent ease could be seen as a reflection of the intense pleasure he was experiencing in his personal life.

 

turban

Duncan Grant, Study For Composition (Self-Portrait In Turban) (1910), oil paint on canvas. Photograph © National Gallery

 

Grant and John Maynard Keynes were lovers during the early years of Grant’s initial critical acclaim, and they remained so until about 1910. Happily, this relatively brief romantic period of theirs did not deter their friendship, which prevailed until Keynes’ death. Grant’s biographer Frances Spalding thought it telling of Grant and Keynes’ relationship that, ‘…when he reminisced about th[eir] affair, Duncan gave his close friend Paul Roche the impression that Keynes ‘was closer than anyone except perhaps Vanessa [Bell], and even closer than her in some respects…in the uncluttered recognition one male can have for another.’

JMK

Duncan Grant, Portrait of John Maynard Keynes (1917-18), oil paint on canvas. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

 

Indeed; ‘The significance of Maynard for Duncan went very deep and in old age…Before the end of [that] June [of 1914] he had fallen in love with Maynard and experienced an immediacy of rapport greater than he had ever known.’ This relationship would no doubt have heightened Grant’s sense of creativity s as he became more confident with his sexuality. As Spalding put it, ‘Maynard…liberated Duncan through his own attraction to the genuine and that which was without pretence.’ It helped greatly that Keynes himself had been in a liberal environment when he was a student, ‘[at] Kings College Cambridge [where] homosexuality ha[d] become…rampant.’ in the early 1900s.

Years later, when Roche sat as a model for Grant, Roche observed how he worked, and saw that in his style, Grant had what he saw as a ‘determination not to please [aesthetically] except by telling the truth, and telling the truth through the intransigent beauty of paint,’ Perhaps an element of the openness that Keynes had shared with Grant had found itself within Grant’s portraiture style as he captured his chosen sitters.

paul roche

Duncan Grant, Paul Roche with leg raised; date unknown, charcoal and gouache. Photograph © Christies 2015

 

In the summer of 1910, Grant and Keynes holidayed together in Greece and Turkey, and took delight in photographing each other naked against the backdrop of the aged classical landscape. Christopher Reed saw the activity of picture-taking as Keynes’ and Grants’ way of ‘enacting the links they perceived between ancient and modern homoeroticism.’, and this was therefore a kind of an affirmation of sexuality; ‘…free of the repressive structures of [their] own culture[s].’

For Grant, it would have brought into clearer focus through the lens in his mind, the image of the classical male nude; ‘out of doors,.’ Bathing (1911) captures Grant’s idealised version of the male nude, aptly classicized in following of his preferred artistic style. The work was praised; namely, The Spectator remarked that, ‘…the figure scrambling into the boat in the background is a noble piece of draughtsmanship…[the work] gives an extraordinary impression of the joys of lean athletic life.’ Grant hired a model which he photographed in his studio in preparation for the work, allowing him the freedom as well as the accuracy to produce the life-size panorama that came to be so successful.

 

bathers

Duncan Grant, Bathing (1911), oil paint on canvas, Photograph © Tate.

Duncan Grant’s relationships with his models have been much looked at and written about, as they are interesting and complex; they were an integral part of his work and life. Though he made studies of men and women alike; ‘Integral to his creative process…attractive men were as vital a source for Duncan ‘s creative imagination as women were for Picasso’s.”, and he drew his lovers.

1. fp

CHA/P/2630 Duncan Grant, study of female nude, charcoal on paper, Photograph © The Charleston Trust

2. fp

CHA/P/2629 Duncan Grant, study of female nude, charcoal on paper, Photograph © The Charleston Trust

 

The sitters depicted in these sketches of his that we have unearthed this week as part of the Angelica Garnett Gift are less familiar to us. Grant used numerous models in his work throughout his lifetime; some who were paid, though many were family, friends, close or acquaintances.

The two sketches of the female nudes are drawn with their heads turned away from us; their bodies twisted slightly away from the way they are facing, a pose subtly characteristic of Grant’s nudes. These two females were paid models who sat for Grant in about 1930. As a more established artist, Grant would have been able to afford to do this more than he had done so in his early career. The two sketches of the male nudes, both signed and dated, are of friends of their artist. Their inscriptions; ‘Mark, Charleston, 4th June ‘70’, and, ‘EC Farah, ‘65’, refer to the model, date and the place they were done. (Charleston, in the case of the 1970 drawing), as stylistically, we can attribute the works to Grant although he did not sign them.

ggggggggggg

CHA/P/2629 Duncan Grant, study of male nude, charcoal on paper, (1970), Photograph © The Charleston Trust

hhhhhhhhh

CHA/P/2634 Duncan Grant, study of male nude, charcoal on paper, (1965), Photograph © The Charleston Trust

From the relaxed way they hold themselves, as well as the intimate perspectives from which they are drawn, there is the sense that all of the sitters felt comfortable exposing themselves to Grant for the sake of his art, as was often the case. The sense of truth expressed in the body laid bare is heightened when it is expressed by creative means, and Duncan Grant made no secret in asserting his creativity.

 

Highlights from the Gift

As we come to end of our six months together in the Charleston Attic we look back over pieces we have found in the Gift, but have not had the chance to write about.

tangiersblog2

CHA/P/2523 Recto. Duncan Grant, Tangiers Landscape, pastel and pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

We have found another example of Grant’s sketches from El Farah, the house where he stayed in Tangiers, an unexpectedly extended vacation we discussed a few weeks ago. This sketch is annotated as “from El Farah” suggesting this is the view from Duncan Grant and Paul Roche’s ground floor bedroom-come-studio.

hitchcockblog

CHA/P/2552 Recto. Duncan Grant, drawing, Alfred Hitchcock, pen on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Later in life Duncan Grant sketched from his television. Here we see a quick sketch of Alfred Hitchcock which Grant has signed, noting too that he completed the study from film. As Frances Spalding notes in her biography, in 1957 Grant saw television for the first time and wrote to Vanessa Bell “I really think it is the end of civilisation as we know it… but of course one can’t help glancing in its direction from time to time”.

posterblog

CHA/P/2472 Recto. Duncan Grant, study of a horn for poster “Musical Instruments for the Front”, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

This is a study for the poster that Duncan Grant designed in c.1918 which read “Wanted! Wanted Musical Instruments for the Front… If you have any musical instruments to give the soldiers at the front write at once”. The posters were printed by David Allen & Sons Ltd. Charleston has recently acquired one of the few remaining posters known to survive which alongside this preliminary study provides insights into his design practice.

vblithographblog.jpg

CHA/P/2443 Vanessa Bell, Lithograph, London Children in the Country. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

One box that we have worked through during our time here contained various examples of woodcut prints and lithographs executed by both Bell and Grant. Read more about these prints and the significance of print making in both artists’ works in our previous blog here. This lithograph is by Vanessa Bell and is believed to illustrate the experience of evacuated children from the capital city in the countryside around the beginning of the Second World War. The print design dates from 1939.

berwickblog

CHA/P/2413 Recto. Vanessa Bell, painting, Berwick Church study, paint on canvas. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

This is a study of a lamb by Vanessa Bell which would go on to make part of her final mural design for The Nativity at Berwick Church executed in 1942. Berwick Church commissioned these murals by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell in the early 1940s and they can still be seen today. You can walk from Charleston to Berwick Church; find the route on our walking maps available in Charleston’s shop.

grantblog

CHA/P/2253 Recto. Duncan Grant, figure study, pen on newspaper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

This piece illustrates the inter-textuality of many of the works found in The Angelica Garnett Gift. Here Duncan Grant has penned a nude figure study on a page from The Nation, signing this sketch in a different pen at a later date, and adding the note “can’t make out/ don’t remember the sitter”.

As our season here comes to an end we welcome and wish good luck to the new Attic interns Emily Hill and Philippa Bougeard.

 

Zoe Wolstenholme and Rebecca Birrell

 

Spotlight Lectures: Research in the Attic

Next Thursday we will be presenting our research through public lectures held at Charleston in the historic barns. We will talk about our individual research projects looking in depth at items found in The Angelica Garnett Gift. These talks mark the beginning of the summer season and the house will also be open accessed via guided tour which you can book here. Book a place on our Spotlight lectures here.

Please do come to this free event and talk to us about our projects and the Angelica Garnett Gift. Here are some introductions to our talks:

Vanessa Bell’s Faceless Portraits and The Angelica Garnett Gift

event_image_44018_1456917421

CHA/P/2586 Recto. Unattributed, painting, seated portrait in yellow, paint and crayon on paper. © The Charleston Trust

The Angelica Garnett Gift exposes the extent to which Bell and Grant sketched, both casually for pleasure and as a mode of thinking through concepts for their work. Sketching – especially in such volume – appears to voice an admission regarding representation itself. Their throwaway, unserious, unfixed quality shrugs before the monumentalising pressure of the portrait. Unsure of itself ontologically and aesthetically, the sketch offered a medium closer to Bell and Grant’s perception of human life. Conditioned by shifts in science, philosophy and psychoanalysis, the British avant-garde began to understand and depict experience as fluid, unstable and marked by a profound alienation.

This paper will argue that the importance afforded to sketching surfaces in the incorporation of its visual vocabulary into Vanessa Bell’s portraits, which are characterized by blurred, featureless faces.

Rebecca Birrell

Dressing Modern Identity: Victorian style re-imagined in The Angelica Garnett Gift

CHA-P-2454-R-C-Blog

CHA/P/2454 Recto. Duncan Grant, drawing, Omega hat designs, c.1912. pen on paper. © The Charleston Trust

In her letters as a young woman Vanessa Bell illustrates her stories of sartorial conquests with sketches of the silk coats and dress shapes that hung in her wardrobe. She delighted in purchasing fabrics abroad and went on to suggest dress design as an endeavour for the Omega Workshops. Duncan Grant’s career also shows an active interest in dress through his costume designs for the theatre and in his Omega hat and fan designs. However, the importance of dress is often overlooked in Bloomsbury academia. I seek to illuminate the pervasive presence of dress as a mode of expression in the work and lives of Bell, Grant, and their contemporaries. My argument pivots upon two specific sartorial finds in the Angelica Garnett Gift consisting of two pages of hat designs by Duncan Grant annotated “Omega Hats 1912.c.” and a Vanessa Bell sketchbook that reworks the image of the fan, resulting in a pattern design for a printed fabric in c.1946. Both reinterpret these specifically Victorian styles to make statements about Modern identity through dress.

Zoe Wolstenholme

Duncan Grant and El Greco

CHA-P-2612-Rblog.jpg

CHA/P/2612 Recto. Duncan Grant, drawing, study of El Greco’s Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara (c.1600)  Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

The box of loose pages that we are currently working through in the Angelica Garnett Gift has been transporting us to warmer climes over the past few weeks. Last week we stepped inside Grant’s heady Moroccan landscapes, capturing the knotted kaleidoscope of exotic foliage under the vibrant Tangiers sun. This week we follow Grant’s influences to Spain and to the work of El Greco. We have unearthed a Grant study of El Greco’s Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara (c.1600) and thus turn towards the artistic legacy of the continent and the influence of El Greco’s Mannerist style in the Late Renaissance on Grant’s and his contemporaries’ works.

Domenikos Theotokopoulos is better known as “El Greco”, meaning “The Greek”. He was born in 1541 on the island of Crete, then owned by Venice, and travelled to Venice itself to study art under Titian. Here he was influenced by Tintoretto and Bassando before moving on to Rome to study Michelangelo and Raphael. He was also greatly influenced by Byzantine art, having grown up in Crete, and his style can be referred to as Post-Byzantine. By 1577 El Greco had moved to Spain where he would stay for the rest of his life. Duncan Grant’s work has similar influences in both the Renaissance Masters and the Byzantine style.

El Greco The MET

Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara by El Greco, c.1600. Photograph © The MET.

El Greco’s Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara is noted for its original style, much discussed sitter, and relationship to the history of Spain. It is now widely accepted that the sitter is Niño de Guevara and not his successor to the position of Inquisitor General, Cardinal Bernardo de Sandoval y Rojas (1546–1618). The portrait shows Niño de Guevara as a man of power who held an important role in the Spanish Inquisition. Walter Liedke has noted that

“The portrait was probably painted in March and April 1600, when the cardinal (aged about 59) was in Toledo for several weeks. His visit began as part of the king and queen’s formal entry into the city on March 2; a few days later an auto-da-fé was held at which Philip III vowed to protect the Holy Office and forty-six alleged transgressors were assigned unfortunate fates.”

On his visit to Spain in 1936 Duncan Grant made his way via bus from Malaga via Algeciras to Cadiz where he saw an El Greco painting before moving on to Murillo. He spent Easter here. Frances Spalding sets the scene:

“When Holy Week began, its streets filled with elaborate processions in which enormous Madonnas with glass tears and scarlet and gold robes were carried slowly through town accompanied by mournful trumpet music. On Easter Sunday 1936 he stood outside the cathedral and watched as five bishops, all in mitres, said mass while young men holding candles lined the altar steps.”

Grant is quoted saying “[t]hey really were a magnificent sight, rather like a Greco – it would be fun to paint them”. He is clearly inspired both by the traditions of the Catholic Church and the artistic heritage of Spain. However, the painting that Grant had seen in Cadiz, just weeks before the motifs of El Greco came to life before his eyes on Murillo’s cathedral steps, cannot have been Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara as the painting was, by this time, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The painting was sold some time between 1901-1904 to Durand-Ruel, the famous Impressionist art dealer, who then sold it to the Havemeyers in New York. The painting was bequest from the family to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1929. It is possible that Grant could have seen it whilst it was with Durand-Ruel as he did visit him on occasion but perhaps it is more likely that this study was made from a reproduction image, perhaps inspired by his visit to Spain in the 1930s.

Grant’s study is a gestural piece which eliminates background detail to focus on the sitter. It is a dynamic work which captures the posture and presence of the Cardinal in bold graphite, amplifying the chiaroscuro of the piece. Indeed, El Greco’s positioning and distortion of bodies was an inspiration for Cubist artists, working at the same time as Grant. El Greco’s works were cited as an inspiration by various Modern artists from Picasso to Pollock. Roger Fry in particular noted how Cezanne had been inspired by El Greco’s “great discovery of the permeation of every part of the design with a uniform and continuous plastic theme”. Indeed, perhaps this is another aspect of what interested Grant about the artist. His study does not further distort the figure into a Cubist or Abstract style but is a true exercise in copying, perhaps in order to better understand El Greco’s compositional practice.

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron at 200

Last Friday we attended the Julia Margaret Cameron at 200 conference at The Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Julia Margaret Cameron’s legacy had an impact upon her great niece, Vanessa Bell, who hung Cameron’s photographs at 46 Gordon Square embedding Bell’s Victorian heritage within the Modern life she and her siblings were forging for themselves and their contemporaries.

We were especially interested in contemporary artistic responses to Cameron’s work that continue to explore the pioneering aesthetic of her photography that so captivated Bell more than 100 years ago.

Sunara Begum, a British artist of Bangladeshi descent, spoke of her collaborative work attentive to the colonial subjects of Cameron’s photography. This work culminated in a travelling exhibition entitled ‘Retracing the Eye’ in 2015:

Begum’s interest in the pioneering work of the 19th century Victorian photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, inspired her to stage a new interpretation of her work, engaging and developing a timeless relationship with her images. Begum re-imagines the life of her silent subjects, over a century later, and her work is a symbol of untold stories. (http://sunarabegum.com/)

Crypt%20Sunara%20Begum%20Leaflet.jpg

Lionel%20Sunara%20Begum%20Retracing01.jpg Lionel%20Sunara%20Begum%20Retracing07

 Photographs © Sunara Begum

 

A Self-Portrait

In celebration of #MuseumSelfie day here is a self-portrait of Duncan Grant that hangs in Vanessa Bell’s bedroom at Charleston. If you are interested in self-portraiture read our previous blog which details Dr Hana Leaper’s research on Vanessa Bell’s self-portraits.

P-65

CHA/P/65 Verso. Duncan Grant, “Self-Portrait”, circa 1910, oil on canvas. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

“she might have walked among the fair women of Burne-Jones’s Golden Stair; but she spoke with the voice of Gauguin”

Last Friday we travelled from Bloomsbury in Sussex to its origins in Bedford Square to hear one of the first Charleston attic interns, and current Paul Mellon Centre for British Art Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Hana Leaper talk on Vanessa Bell’s self-portraiture. We stepped inside the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art’s newly refurbished interiors, leaving the golden autumn leaves falling from the trees outlining the park onto the crisp pavement outside. We moved through to the seminar room and sat around a large oval table ready for Dr. Leaper to begin her talk.

Leaper opened by detailing Vanessa Bell’s artistic and aesthetic maternal ancestry, examining how Julia Margaret Cameron’s pioneering photography memorialised her niece Julia Stephen (nee Jackson) – Vanessa Bell’s mother – as an icon of Victorian feminine beauty. Leaper examined how Bell inherited her mother’s image as “the angel of the house”,  only to radically complicate this representation throughout her artistic career. She highlighted this tension between Bell’s image as the mother of Bloomsbury, mythologized as silent and serene, and her identity as a self-conscious and articulate member of the Modernist avant-garde.

T01935_10.jpg

Abstract Painting by Vanessa Bell, circa 1914. Photograph © Tate

Leaper examined Bell’s first known finished self-portrait from 1912, where she captures herself  in the act of painting, surrounded by the homely accoutrements of the drawing room at Gordon Square. A black outline separates Bell from the background, boldly pressing her image into the foreground. Distancing herself from the bookcase that adorns the wall behind her, Bell at once distances herself from her family’s literary heritage. Confidently wielding a paintbrush, Bell asserts rather her identity as an artist. By obscuring her face – as she does too in a later 1952 self-portrait, also discussed by Leaper – Bell resists not only her literary background, but also her legacy of feminine beauty.

Leaper went on to highlight Bell’s recurring emphasis on a particular ligament in her neck, a line paid equal attention by Julia Margaret Cameron in her portraits of Julia Stephen. Used to index strength of character, and made all the more prominent by the obfuscation of all other facial features,  Bell uses this familial physical idiosyncrasy to resist classification as a Burne-Jones “beauty”. Bell thus highlights the strong feminine features that define her maternal lineage, drawing attention away from their definition as “angels of the house”.

B1982.16.2

Self-portrait by Vanessa Bell, circa 1915. Photograph © Yale Center for British Art

Leaper moved on to compare Bell’s self portraits to portraits painted of Bell by Duncan Grant and Roger Fry. She argued that these portraits, by men central to Bell’s  life, lacked the psychological complexity that she communicates in her own self portraits. Grant and Fry’s portraits were thrown into particularly sharp relief by Bell’s 1915 self-portrait. Here Bell’s face absorbs the colours of the backdrop, an arrangement strongly reminiscent of the abstract works Bell was working on concurrently. Bell once again incorporates her art practice into the imagery of self-portraiture, thus claiming the centrality of her creative work to her identity. A defiance, moreover, radiates from the image: her pose is awkward; her figure fills and threatens to spill out of the frame. She is monumental but not statuesque. Yet Grant and Fry, painting her portrait at a similar time, attribute to Bell the poise and classical beauty of statuary.

With self-portrait and portraits placed side by side, Leaper uncovered the extent of Bell’s rebellious representations. She is three dimensional and dynamic, often difficult, confrontational and restless. Her essence cannot be captured. She is like Virginia Woolf’s “will-o-the-wisp” in her essay on fiction Mr Bennet and Mrs Brown who tauntingly says “my name is Brown. Catch me if you can”.

Underpinning Leaper’s thesis was the notion that Bell’s later works deserve greater critical attention. Leaper compared Bell’s final known finished self-portrait, which hangs in the garden room at Charleston, to other late self portraits by artists such as Chardin and Rembrandt, thus re-contextualising her work within the art historical canon. While these self portraits by male artists were revered as great works, demonstrative of their maturity, Leaper suggested that Bell’s equivalent has been frequently obscured by biographical readings, seen by many to represent her suffering after the death of her sister Virginia Woolf and eldest son Julian Bell. Perhaps, Leaper concluded, a wider cultural hostility towards older women conditioned this response, as it could be better understood as a defiant act of self-expression, in keeping with Bell’s other self portraits.

Vanessa Bell Self Portrait bbc your paintings

Self Portrait by Vanessa Bell, c. 1958. The Charleston Trust. Photograph © BBC Your Paintings

We would like to thank Dr Hana Leaper and the Paul Mellon Centre for a fantastic and illuminating research lunch.

%d bloggers like this: