The Charleston Attic

Category: Vanessa Bell

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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Local Landscapes of Firle

Amongst a box filled with stretched canvas and paintings on wood, we re-discovered these fantastic landscapes of the local area.

Both painted by Vanessa Bell, the first is of the old Coach Road looking towards Firle Tower on the right. The leaves on the trees appear to be blowing in the wind, the farmland and coach road painted lightly in pinks and purples to represent the human touch on the landscape.

VB, Landscape view of the coach road and Firle Tower

CHA/P/5118, Vanessa Bell, painting, view of the Coach Road and Firle Tower, oil on board, © Charleston Trust


The second painting is darker, with a heavier stroke to set the trees and skyline apart. As seen from Vanessa Bell’s studio at the top of Charleston, the Sussex Weald is captured as a mass expanse of agricultural land with nature neatly lining up.

Vanessa Bell, painting, view of Sussex Weald from VB's studio, oil on wood, © Charleston Trust

CHA/P/5124, Vanessa Bell, painting, Sussex Weald painted from Vanessa Bell’s studio, oil on wood, © Charleston Trust

View from Vanessa Bell's studio

Current view from Vanessa Bell’s studio showing how the landscape has dramatically changed, with the house in the far background.


If you are familiar with the Sussex Downs, you will notice that the landscape depicted here has changed little; the rolling hill tops, with pathways to match, and the farmers’ fields the most obvious sign of human intervention. But perhaps the way we see and experience the countryside has changed. Looking at these landscape paintings with Vanessa Bell in mind reminds us of just how isolating and all-consuming it might have been to permanently live at Charleston; far away from the hustle and bustle of a town. But, these beautiful paintings remind us of just how inspiring these surroundings were to Bell and how they continue to remain an inspiration for a new generation of artists.

From Patterned to Plain: A Visit to the Courtauld Gallery Exhibition on Omega Workshops

We visited the Courtauld Gallery’s display of items from the Omega Workshops. The Workshops operated in London between 1913 and 1919 under the directorship of Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. The Courtauld is fortunate to be able to draw on its extensive collection of Bloomsbury art and design, much of which was bequeathed to it by Fry.

The current exhibition is small, but it successfully demonstrates the willingness of the Omega artists to apply their decorative ideas in many forms, from fine art, to rugs, screens and tableware. The exhibition even includes a musical instrument, a type of harpsichord known as a virginal. This was extravagantly decorated by Fry, somewhat to the dismay of Arnold Dolmetsch who made it.  

The exhibition was effective in teasing out different aesthetic ideas within the group by placing highly patterned work alongside deceptively simple ceramics. We were thrilled to see Duncan Grant’s Lily Pond Design, familiar from the table at Charleston, applied in a dramatically different context on a large folding screen (pattern has been photographed below). Grant’s work made an interesting contrast with a selection of Fry’s monotone tableware, in which Fry pursued his interest in form and the imperfections left by the artist’s touch.

Lily Pond design on screen

Duncan Grant, 1913-14, oil on wood, screen with Lily Pond design, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Jug

Roger Fry, 1913, white coffee pot, , tin-glazed earthenware © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

The exhibition also touched on the Omega artists’ receptiveness to the influence of other cultures.  For example, Grant is said to have borrowed ‘liberally from African textiles’ for a rug design (see below).[i] This is perhaps not surprising as African designs featured in Fry’s lectures and the Omega Workshops sold textiles produced for the African market.  Moreover, the Omega Workshops’ active period followed a period of heightened interest in African art, especially among artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Fry, some of whom owned African sculptures.  Further signs that Grant shared their interest can also be found in the Angelica Garnett Gift, which includes sketches of African dance masks.

Rug

Duncan Grant, 1913, rug, hand-knotted wool with a jute or hemp warp, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

 

Dance mask

CHA/P/3316, Duncan Grant, drawing, Bapende dance mask, colour wash and charcoal, © Charleston Trust

Dance mask

CHA/P/3323, Duncan Grant, Ibibio dance mask, charcoal on paper, © Charleston Trust

 

The shape and colour of Fry’s ceramics echo those of the Chinese Song dynasty (960-1279) and include his 20th century take on a traditional rice bowl and a turquoise tureen with a bison, or Chinese lion, on the lid.

Bowl

Roger Fry, c. 1916, black-glazed bowl, glazed earthenware, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Tureen

Roger Fry, 1915, blue-glazed cover tureen, glazed earthenware, mould made © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Previous posts on the blog describe how Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell shared Fry’s interest in China, especially after Julian Bell’s move to Wuhan in central China to teach English. This is also reflected in the Angelica Garnett Gift, where we have re-discovered tourist souvenirs from China and sketches of figures wearing traditional dress known as ‘Han Fu’.

Chinese tourist souvenir

CHA/P/4029, Chinese souvenir of floral design and traditional poem, ink on Chinese paper, © Charleston Trust

Chinese child

CHA/P/4024, Vanessa Bell/Duncan Grant, Chinese child, pencil on tracing paper, © Charleston Trust

The exhibition ‘Bloomsbury Art and Design’ continues until 21 September 2017. For further details click here to visit their website.

 

 

 

[i] Courtauld Gallery London, Bloomsbury Art and Design, London: Courtauld Gallery, 2017.

Berwick Church murals – preliminary sketches by Duncan Grant

Prompted by a collection of drawings and sketches found inside a thin blue cardboard folder labelled ‘Berwick Church’ (CHA/P/603), this week’s blog article examines some of Duncan Grant’s preliminary studies for the painted wall murals created for Berwick Church in Sussex between 1941 and 1944.

On the 10 October 1943 a dedication service was held at St Michael and All Angels Church in Berwick Village in honour of the completion of a collection of new wall murals designed and painted by local Bloomsbury artists’, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and her son Quentin.

Although they had been commissioned in 1940 by Brighton-based, Bishop Bell, the designs were not fully approved by Berwick’s Parish Church Council until a year later. It was recommended that the murals be painted on plasterboard panels which were constructed in a barn at Charleston.[1] The first set of murals entitled The Annunciation and The Nativity by Vanessa Bell, Christ in Glory by Duncan Grant and The Wise and Foolish Virgins by Quentin Bell were largely finished by January 1943 and raised into position by spring that year.[2]

The first few sketches in the folder are connected with Bishop Bell himself, besides a full portrait study of him kneeling, there is a detailed study of his mitre and his crook. These were preliminary sketches for the figure of Bishop Bell as represented in the group of church officials to the right hand side of the arch in Christ in Glory.

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CHA/P/603/9, Duncan Grant, Dr. Bell kneeling, c. 1943. © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

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Berwick Church murals, Duncan Grant, detail of Bishop Bell kneeling, c. 1942. © of the Estate of Vanessa Bell 1961 and the Estate of Duncan Grant 1978, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett. Photograph: berwickchurch.org.uk/bloomsbury.

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CHA/P/603/4, Duncan Grant, The Bishop’s Crook. © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

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CHA/P/603/3, Dr. Bell’s Mitre, c. 1943, © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

For Grant, Bishop Bell was

 ‘a most obliging sitter, going down on his knees so that Duncan could draw him in the position he wanted and lending him his elaborate crosier, robes and mitre so that work could continue in his absence’.[3]

However, work on the church decorations did not end with the dedication service. In April 1944 a new Faculty was granted for decorations to the chancel screen and pulpit, a crucifixion on the west wall and an altar picture.

The last two sketches in the blue folder (CHA/P/603/14 and CHA/P/603/11) appear to be preliminary designs for The Crucifixion or The Victory of Calvary, a mural of Christ on the cross completed by Duncan Grant in 1944.

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Duncan Grant, The Crucifixion or The Victory of Calvary, Berwick Church mural, 1944, © of the Estate of Vanessa Bell 1961 and the Estate of Duncan Grant 1978, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett. Photograph: berwickchurch.org.uk/bloomsbury.

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CHA/P/603/13, Duncan Grant, preliminary sketch for The Crucifixion, c.1943, pencil on paper, Berwick Church murals. © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Likely to be experimenting with ideas for the composition of Christ, Duncan Grant was clearly influenced by his admiration of early Italian Renaissance art in this pencil sketch. He had visited Florence some forty years earlier in 1904 with his mother Ethel and spent every day at the Uffizi copying works by artists such as Piero della Francesca and Masaccio.[4] It is also likely that he visited Basilica di Santa Croce, the main Franciscan church in Florence where he would have seen Crucifix, 1287–1288 a work by Cimabue which probably provided inspiration for his later pencil study.

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Cimabue, Crucifix, 1287–1288. Distemper on wood panel, 448 cm × 390 cm. Basilica di Santa Croce. Photograph: The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei.

Grant particularly favoured the work of Michelangelo, in the autumn of 1910 he was copying Entombment c. 1500-01 at the National Gallery in London.[5] In his sketch for The Crucifixion mural Christ’s head is depicted in a bowed position, slightly crooked to one side echoing the pose of Christ’s head in Michelangelo’s painting.

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Michelangelo, Entombment, c. 1500-01, tempura on panel, National Gallery, Photograph: National Gallery.

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Duncan Grant, preliminary sketch for The Crucifixion or The Victory of Calvary, Berwick Church mural, 1944, © of the Estate of Vanessa Bell 1961 and the Estate of Duncan Grant 1978, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett. Photograph: berwickchurch.org.uk/bloomsbury.

In the preliminary sketch by Grant for The Crucifixion shown on the Berwick Church website, Christ is drawn in more detail; the head is still in the same position as in CHA/603/13 but the loin cloth is draped differently. In the coloured version of the drawing, the head is straighter and the cloth is tied and more full rather than draped. However, Christ’s torso in Grant’s coloured study CHA/P/603/11 is similar in shape and composition to that in Cimabue’s work.

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CHA/P/603/11, Duncan Grant, preliminary drawing for The Crucifixion, Berwick Church mural, c. 1943, gouache on paper. © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Edward Le Bas, a close friend of Duncan Grant modelled for the figure of Christ in The Crucifixion mural.[6] When compared with the sketches detailed above, two other  studies CHA/P/2543 and CHA/P/2544 in the Angelica Garnett gift catalogue certainly seem to indicate that Grant was sketching from a life model, especially considering the detail depicted in muscle definition and proportion. Moreover, the head position, raised and looking upward to the right side is also nearer to that of the finished mural. 

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CHA/P/2543 (above) and (below) CHA/P/ 2544, Duncan Grant, preliminary study for The Crucifixion, Berwick Church mural, c. 1943, pencil on paper, © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

cha-p-2544-r

It was in 1943, at the time that Grant was working on the church murals that Edward Le Bas first visited Charleston. He recalled his visit in a letter to Grant dated 2 July 1943:

‘I did enjoy the weekend, you’ve no idea how much: to see again how life can really be lived [….] The church paintings grow in my mind in calmness and power.’[7]

References:

[1] Frances Spalding, Duncan Grant: A biography, Pimlico, London (1998), p. 382.

[2] http://www.berwickchurch.org.uk/bloomsbury%20at%20berwick%20home.html

[3] Frances Spalding, Duncan Grant: A biography, p.384.

[4] Ibid., p.33.

[5] Ibid., p.97.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., p.397.

 

 

 

 

 

VBCHA-P-78

This week a team from Dulwich Picture Gallery visited Charleston for the day in order to photograph objects and interiors for the upcoming exhibition ‘Vanessa Bell 1876-1961’.

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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