The Charleston Attic

Tag: Art History

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.


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.

studio portrait 1952.jpg

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.

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


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.


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.


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


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.

An Unexpected Frieze

A beautiful frieze was re-discovered today! Under a magnifying lens we identified that the frieze was hand painted with a chalk based paint, applied onto plaster. Dating from around 1800, it is possible that a technique called fresco was used, which means the artist painted directly onto wet plaster. The frieze could have been used for a number of different decorative purposes: a mural, the edging of a frame or it could have been applied directly onto the wall. The frieze was not created by one of our Bloomsbury heroes however it was evidently a source of inspiration given that it has been carefully wrapped in brown paper.


CHA/P/3766, wallcovering frieze stuck onto squared paper wrapped in brown parcel paper with hand written annotation ‘Frise’, chalk based paint on plaster, c. 1800.
© The Charleston Trust.

Unfortunately only one of the two frieze examples survives. With only a small amount of debris left, the first almost non-existent frieze is decorated with shades of duck egg green. Much more intact, the other frieze is of an acanthus leaf which is painted in shades of brown with a delicate gold finish.

The frieze was in the middle of a sketchbook with ‘SENS’ written on the cover. It is likely that the sketchbook belonged to Duncan Grant as the book bears his name on the back page. As well as this, letters and postcards stored in the Tate’s Archive were sent from Sens, France by Grant to Vanessa Bell in December

Front [22 December 1924] by Duncan Grant 1885-1978
Postcard written by Duncan Grant to Vanessa Bell sent from Sens, 24 December 1924. Photograph © Tate Archives.

The paper ephemera contains Grant’s excitement after visiting Sens and Dijon Cathedrals, explaining how they make ‘a lovely drawing’.[2] Several pages in the sketchbook are of murals and biblical scenes that have probably been inspired by these Cathedrals.

Inspired by Cath.jpg

CHA/P/3766, biblical scene with hand written annotation ‘Sens’, pencil on paper, c. 1924. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

On one of Grant’s many trips to France, this frieze has probably been removed from a building of some significance given the fine workmanship of the object. Could the frieze have come from one of these magnificent buildings Grant visited on his travels? There are many mysteries that surround this frieze, but what an excellent thing to re-discover in the middle of a sketchbook.


[1] In two letters to Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant speaks of his fondness of the cathedrals. Letters can be found at the Tate Archive:,

[2] Tate Archive, Postcard from Duncan Grant to Vanessa Bell, 24 December 1924, Online access:

Duncan Grant and Henri Matisse

In August, the curatorial team began cataloguing the larger works on paper and canvas of the Angelica Garnett Gift. The discovery of a dynamic pencil drawing depicting four frantically moving figures encircling a fifth immediately bring Matisse’s famous work Dance to mind.

The rough sketch is undated and unsigned, and like so many of the quick ephemeral drawings by Grant in the Gift, it is in perfect condition. Was this sketch a design for a larger, more detailed work on canvas, perhaps? Had Grant directly been inspired by Matisse’s Dance?


CHA/P/3004 Recto. Artist Unknown (Likely to be by Duncan Grant), study of moving figures in a circle, pencil on paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.


We have found several items in the archives that indicate an interest on the part of Bloomsbury in Matisse and his career. There are two records of Matisse exhibitions; one, a card for ‘The Exhibition of Contemporary French Painting’ (undated), and the other, a poster advertising a show at the Musee Matisse in 1955. We also found a commercial print of the work ‘Nu Bleu’, bought by Duncan Grant in 1968 after visiting the ‘Matisse 1869-1954’ Retrospective Exhibition at the Hayward Gallery by the Arts Council.


CHA/E/222 Recto. Exhibition advertisement card, for Henri Matisse exhibition, date and place of exhibition unknown. Card © The Estate of Duncan Grant. . Photograph © The Charleston Trust.


CHA/P/83 Recto. Print,  of Henri Matisse’s work ‘Nu Bleu’, purchased by Duncan Grant in 1968. Print © The Estate of Duncan Grant. . Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Matisse 'Nice'.jpg

CHA/P/317  Recto. Poster, for Henri Matisse exhibition in Nice, France, in 1955. Poster © The Estate of Duncan Grant. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

Nasturtiums, or Nasturtiums with the Painting ‘Dance’ I, as it was later named, features a memorable motif from the most well-known early modernist work by Matisse, ‘Dance’. In both works, the nude figures depicted form a circle, linked by their hands’ their bodies bowed in the joyful movement of dance. The scene is a celebratory one: the figures have shed their clothes with gay abandon, and are embracing all that is natural within and around themselves.

‘Here was a possible path,’ wrote Vanessa Bell of the first Post-Impressionist exhibition in 1910 in which Matisse’s work featured. ‘A sudden liberation and encouragement to feel for oneself, which were absolutely overwhelming.’[1] The desire to paint, then, matches the desire of Matisse’s nude figures to dance.

Grant, The Dancers, 1911.jpg

Duncan Grant, ‘Dancers’, 1910, oil paint on canvas. Photograph © Tate.

Looking at Duncan Grant’s 1910 work Dancers , one can see straight away how Grant had been inspired by the bright colours, and the bold and dynamic figures caught in flowing movement that Matisse depicted in his Dance series. ‘It is as if Duncan had suddenly learnt to diminish the emphasis on materiality, on textures, light and shade, in order to allow for a more vibrant use of line, interval, structure and movement,’ writes Frances Spalding of Grant’s work. ‘Matisse helped liberate him from the tyranny of appearances.’

[1]Frances Spalding, Vanessa Bell, p.101


PS. It may be of interest to regular readers that we will shortly be bidding a sad farewell to the Charleston Attic. What a rewarding 6 months working as Curatorial Interns it has been- from the fascinating discoveries we have made to the in-depth research carried out, not forgetting our involvement with the Festival.

We would like to welcome our new Intern, Dr. Anne Stutchbury, to the Attic, and wish her the best of luck with her work.

A big thank you to our followers- your readership has been greatly appreciated! Keep following The Charleston Attic Blog for new and exciting archival discoveries and research insights…


Philippa Bougeard and Emily Hill


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’.

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.


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 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


Vanessa Bell’s Bathers

Pierre Bonnard’s bathers – the plural is perhaps misleading, for most of his soaking or somnolent nudes were his obliging wife Marthe – lean, lie, or wilt within their enclosed, mistily realised domestic interiors, but rarely do they rise – inelegant, immodest, uneroticised – in the manner of this recently discovered Vanessa Bell nude.

bathing scene

CHA/P/2439. Vanessa Bell. Bathing Scene. Recto. 49cm x 41cm. Photograph © The Charleston Trust.

The wide lilac trimmed bathtub – notably not the narrow, murky green of the tub at Charleston – provides a backdrop for Bell’s awkwardly limbed emerging nude. One arm clutches her side, the other – and our eyes follows her downcast face in its direction – is angled for leverage of her knee. Attentive to the body’s mechanics, Bell is equally sensitive to how the body is experienced in a particular mood, how emotions are embodied. Dappled in unfleshly greens and aquamarine, her ratios radically mismatched (no accident of perspective could generate such an attenuated upper arm, so large a foot) Bell here cedes the figurative to feeling. Size is consistent with effort, suggestive of and responsive to the sensation of weight. The unusual sheens of her skin could, in turn, allude to the estrangement from one’s body elicited by these private rituals. One must temporarily regard one’s body as an object, a vessel – and a fragile one, at that – requiring cleaning, care, and attention.

Anatomy, for Bell, is a means of expression, not an opportunity to strive for representational accuracy; the bather’s surroundings are likewise impressionistic, unconcerned with strict verisimilitude. A hazy geometry of burnt orange, white and periwinkle blue suggest a curtain withdrawn to a pane of glass: rays of sunlight thin to a milky iridescence; pear-shaped daubs of paint smudge into the suggestion of steam. A fastidiously detailed toilette – the mirrors, brushes, and towels littering many of Bonnard’s scenes, not to mention the similar set-pieces of Edgar Degas – is set aside. A sense of privacy trespassed, of intimacy easily if unwillingly ceded – of an omnipotent, virile beholder, in short – lent the conventional bathing scene a fair amount of its appeal. Yet prying becomes almost an impossibility here, as nothing in Bell’s interior is especially familiar; all is avowedly and self-reflexively painted. Abandoning the more prurient forces underpinning the genre, then, Bell’s is a study rather of colour reduced to its optical minutiae, of paint responsive to divergent and shifting materialities.

The Bath 1925 by Pierre Bonnard 1867-1947

Pierre Bonnard, The Bath, 1925. oil on canvas. 86cm x 120.5cm. Photograph © Tate

Bathing scenes had long held a complicated erotic appeal: voyeuristic pleasures aside, these images served to both amplify and assuage anxieties over the cleanliness (or indeed the essential, irrevocable dirtiness) of the female body. Bonnard’s bathing scenes are often praised for their depictions of marital intimacy, nevertheless they remain – however gentle or loving his gaze – reiterations of masculine agency and feminine passivity so prevalent in the Western European art historical canon. Bonnard’s 1925 painting of his wife is typical, imagining her submerged to her chin, swamped by white porcelain, the lifeless nymph of his homely arcadia. Here a shimmering jaundiced blue, Bonnard’s later “Nude in the Bath” (1940) fully dissolves the female body into the bathwater. Tired tropes associating women with the elemental, fluid, and uncontrollable are deployed without compunction; for there are ways of concealing ideology by making claims about perception. Faux-naive in consistency and colour, the circular floor tiling and cross-hatched panelling allude to the visual vocabulary of Post-Impressionism; the bather’s porous and permeable body is, in this light, merely a formal consideration, an expression of fleeting tonal relations, nothing more.

pb bath 2

Pierre Bonnard, Nu Dans La Baignoire, 1940. watercolour, gouache and pencil on paper. 28cm x 32.1cm. Photograph © Christie’s.

Bell’s appropriation of the traditional scene is not without its own quiet, queer eroticism, but seems more keenly responsive to the subjectivity of the bather, and certainly less willing to essentialise in the name of aesthetics. Her gestures radiate a vulnerability – the hand on hip feels protective, and is disproportionately sized as if to bolster or shield – but are balanced against something more defiant, wilful. Note the hunched shoulder, the elbow aslant, the legs splayed. Held aloft and glossed by a sheen of white, the foot reaches beyond the bathwater and – toes touching the scribbled, unfinished outer edge of the tub – the picture plane itself. The bather is at once delicate and robust, sensual but self-commanding, with Bell’s eye trained less to the body’s allure, and more to its tension and mass, its muscle and movement.

Of course, this canvas was not Bell’s sole foray into bathing scenes, and more than likely represents a later work – the absence of dating entails a certain embrace of obscurity – to her 1917 masterpiece “The Tub”.  Originally intended for the Garden Room at Charleston (but never hung) this strikingly large work depicts a woman undressed, playing absently with her plaited hair, her bath skewed to face the viewer, agape like an astonished mouth. Generic similarities are accentuated by the broadly anti-illusionistic style the works share, most noticeable in their spare, vibrantly hued environments. Even the bathers are encountered as echoes. Neither preen nor perform for the painter; both look away, without vanity or shame, their thoughts elsewhere. Yet a uniquely acute sense of unease pervades “The Tub”: every element – from the drooping floral arrangement to the deep purple pillar – is tersely separate, static.

The Tub 1917 by Vanessa Bell 1879-1961

Vanessa Bell, The Tub, 1917. oil (?) and gouache on canvas. 167cm ×108.3cm. Photograph © Tate.

Frances Spalding has read the painting as charged with the emotional turmoil of Bell’s complex early life at Charleston, the three wilting flowers an allusion to the painful, ongoing ménage-a-trois between Bell, Grant and Garnett. However tempting, such biographical readings belie Bell’s awareness of the canon, and her especially fraught relationship with its androcentric history. “The Tub” could thus be better understood as invoking the bathing scene only to admit a profound discomfort, to concede the paralysis and emotional aridity of a genre so freighted with epistemic violence. By the time of her later painting, one can only assume Bell felt the hostile genre had been neutralised, reconciled, and able, finally, to capture an animated, agential vision of female subjectivity.


Spain Fights On

The Spanish Civil War was seen by many as a call to arms against fascism. As Julian Bell saw it, “non-resistance means suffering the full power of fascism. And fascism means, not only violence, but slavery”. Thus he wrote in his letter to E. M. Forster detailing his conversion from pacifist to passionate volunteer. He had been teaching English in China when he resolved to join the fight in Spain. This decision resulted in his tragic death in July 1937, after only weeks of volunteering as an ambulance driver, devastating his mother Vanessa Bell back at Charleston.

This context gives a poignant background to a recent find in the attic. We have unearthed various poster designs in aid of the Spanish Civil War asking for donations to the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief. The National Joint Committee was established by six British Members of Parliament after their visits to Spain in November 1936 and was set up to provide “purely humanitarian and non sectarian” aid. The poster designs we have found emphasise the suffering of 50,000 Spanish children and depict families stranded at harbours, crying babies and small frightened children clinging to their mothers’ skirts. The figures are dark and downcast. And the recurring image of the ship seen below suggests the help the British public can send across the channel to these innocent civilians.


CHA/P/2258 Recto. Duncan Grant, design for poster, Spanish Civil War. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Earlier in the year of Julian’s death, in May 1937, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Quentin Bell visited Paris. Whilst they were there they saw Pablo Picasso who was working on his painting Guernica in his hotel rooms, based on the bombing of the eponymous Basque town the previous month. Quentin Bell had recently asked Picasso to attend an event at the Albert Hall in aid of raising funds for the children of Bilbao and Guernica would also be shown in 1938 at an exhibition arranged by the National Joint Committee to raise funds at the New Burlington Galleries. The poster designs we have found in the attic are part of this wider artistic and cultural cause inspiring humanitarian involvement in Spain at the time. However, as staunch pacifists, Julian and Quentin Bell’s parents Clive and Vanessa Bell and other Charlestonians such as Duncan Grant, who had been a conscientious objector in the First World War, were not so invested in the fighting itself. At the time they visited Picasso in his studio, Julian Bell had recently told his mother of his intention to fight in Spain. This must have coloured her response to the painting’s distorted figures and dismembered limbs clinging to broken weapons in the darkness. Picasso’s tortured figures express the tragedy and horror of the war that her son was intent on joining.

Meanwhile, back at Charleston, David Garnett tried to persuade Julian Bell to stay and fight fascism from home, helping to prepare for war against Hitler. Although Julian Bell was unchanging in his conviction he did make a compromise, deciding to travel to Spain as an ambulance driver instead of as his new-found ideal – expressed in his 1937 talk to the Cambridge Apostles – as a solider.

When he arrived in Spain he longed for action and on the 6 July 1937 was thrown into the thick of battle taking the wounded from the front at Brunete. During this time he wrote his last letter to his mother in which he revealed how Charleston was not far from his mind. He wrote of how he kept his ambulance, of the other men, and then about “the other odd element […] the Charleston one of improvising materials – a bit of carpet to mend a stretcher, e.g. – in which I find myself at home”. These words, “at home”, are especially moving here as he was never to return home again. On the 18 July his ambulance was hit and he was mortally wounded with a piece of shrapnel to the chest. He was one of the 35,000 men who lost their lives in the battle of Brunete.


CHA/P/2291 Recto. Duncan Grant, design for poster, Spanish Civil War. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

One design that we have found, in which the brutality of the war is personified in the traditional Spanish symbol of the Bull, depicts the horrors of war that Julian Bell would have finally seen on his last few days in the thick of the action on the Brunete front. This design differs to the others we have found in the attic, taking this symbol of Spanish nationality and transforming it into a threat to its own people. It brings the fighting itself into the frame. Here women and children recoil helplessly from the scene of a man being thrown by the bull.

It seems that this design was discarded in favour of a version where the women and children are mourning at a distance from the fighting. We have found various and more detailed studies in different media for this design. One sketch is executed in red pencil with a smaller painted study to show colours for the design as a whole on the same page. Here Duncan Grant is working with the harbour-side theme showing a family vulnerable beneath a fighter plane. There is also a smaller study of the design used in the further two studies, the central seated maternal figure reminiscent of Madonna and child.


CHA/P/2354 Recto. Duncan Grant, design for poster, Spanish Civil War. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

There are two further designs made in cooler blues and browns. In this change there is a move towards a more melancholy mood. Perhaps this reflected the mood at Charleston where Vanessa Bell was inconsolable with grief at Julian Bell’s death. At the time Clive Bell remarked “I doubt whether the hole in Vanessa’s life will be filled up ever”. Vanessa Bell’s children were central to her life, Francis Spalding noting how Julian’s birth “revolutionised her life, bringing out strong instincts which until then had laid dormant”. Indeed, in the maternal figure on the poster design below we can see Vanessa Bell as a young woman holding her first baby who was now lost to the war. The posters make a plea for the children of Spain and long for a different ending.


CHA/P/2303 Recto. Duncan Grant, design for poster, Spanish Civil War. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Apollo in his Temple


CHA-P-1240 Recto. Duncan Grant, drawing, Women at Work, ink on lined paper. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

In February 1910 Duncan Grant was invited by Maynard Keynes to join him on a visit to Greece and Asia Minor. While their physical relationship was over by this time, as detailed in an earlier blog post here, the couple remained close friends and continued to travel abroad together, their trips often funded by Keynes. These excursions provided an ideal opportunity for Grant to visit galleries and heritage sites, and to paint and draw local landscapes and people. The creative results of his observations are captured in numerous sketchbooks and upon loose sheets of paper found within the Angelica Garnett Gift.

A particularly interesting token of the 1910 trip was recently uncovered; a thin sheet of lined writing paper upon which a hastily-drawn group of women in long robes and headscarves has been sketched. Like many of the loose works in the Gift this object has dual status, as upon turning the page we discover that Grant has sketched the scene on the back of a letter sent to Keynes by the Compagnie Messageries Meritimes confirming his booking for the Paquebot Senegal, the boat that would take the two friends from Piraeus to Troy on the 12th April, 1910. Although the drawing could have been made later than this (as detailed on the blog previously, Grant often kept materials to use at a later date) it is quite likely that Grant made the drawing during this trip with Keynes.

Frances Spalding, Duncan Grant’s biographer, describes the pair’s journey:

Duncan and Maynard left London on 17th March 1910 and were away for seven weeks in all. They travelled by boat from Marseilles to Athens, and on arrival found a hotel that faced the Acropolis. In Athens they employed a dragoman to accompany them on a journey by horse through the Pelopommese. They travelled through mountain villages to Bassae, carrying food supplies with them. It was a memorable trip. ‘I must tell you about Greece when I see you,’ Duncan wrote to Lytton. ‘It is a divine country…but the remains of ancient Greece. Oh! how melancholy they make one.’

While at Bassae Keynes photographed Grant posing nude, in the guise of a Greek god: ‘I developed Apollo in his temple at Bassae yesterday and printed him to-day,’ Maynard told Duncan. ‘He is lovely…It will be quite unnecessary to take in the Sportszeitung anymore.’


CHA-P-1240-Verso. Letter to Maynard Keynes confirming tickets for the Paquebot Senegal, 10th April, 1910. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Spalding continues:

They moved on to Turkey, travelling on the Paquebot Senegal, stopping at Troy where they stayed with an English couple who owned a farm on the banks of the Skemander. At St Smyrna they were both much taken with the exotic colours and noises of the bazaar. However, Duncan was disappointed with Constantinople, finding it too large and its narrow streets filthy, though he thought the Hagia Sophia one of the most impressive buildings he had ever seen. He felt much happier at Brusa, the ancient Ottoman capital, with its magnificent mosques, tall minarets, cypresses and hot spring baths, situated amid beautiful scenery overlooked by Mount Olympus. One of the most significant experiences of all was the opportunity to familiarise himself with Byzantine mosaics.

Later the same year Roger Fry’s First Post-Impressionist Exhibition opened at the Grafton Galleries to much excitement and controversy. The show would have a deep and lasting impact not only on Grant and other members of the Bloomsbury group, but also the wider art world and gallery-going public. Grant’s work of 1911 to 1912 reveals the impact of the Post-Impressionists, but also of his discovery of Byzantine mosaics and romanesque decoration seen on excursions abroad such as the 1910 trip with Keynes.

On the Roof

Duncan Grant, On the Roof, 38 Brunswick Square, oil on canvas, 1912

His painting titled On the Roof, 38 Brunswick Square made in 1912 has been seen to combine such sources. Depicting Virginia Stephen, Adrian Stephen and Leonard Woolf relaxing on the mezzanine roof at the back of the large eighteenth century house shared by the Stephen siblings and their friends, the painting’s pointillist brushwork, flat picture plane and mosaic-like patches of colour present an amalgamation of the cultural, historical and artistic sources influencing the artist at this time.


CHA/P/185 Vase, circa 1911, ceramic, decorated by Duncan Grant, made in Tunis, North Africa, 34 cm x 20 cm x 20 cm. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Such influences are also reflected in a number of Grant’s decorative works made during this period, an example being a vase purchased and decorated by Grant in Tunis during a trip in 1911 and displayed in the Studio at Charleston. This vase combines both the influence of Post-Impressionist design with its calligraphic nude (Grant was particularly impressed by Henri Matisse’s ceramic works shown at Fry’s 1910 exhibition), and the utilitarian form of traditional Tunisian earthenware.


CHA-P-1773. Duncan Grant, painting, Men in Turkey. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Grant continued to travel and paint abroad, even in his old age. This large painting, found in the Angelica Garnett Gift, depicts a scene witnessed by Grant during a trip to southern Turkey with his close friend Paul Roche in 1973.

In addition to its role as a biographical object, the letter sent to Maynard Keynes is interesting for its inclusion in the Angelica Garnett Gift in the first place. The 8000 items that make up the archive all originated at Charleston and were only taken into storage after Grant died in the 1970s. The artists did not move to Charleston until 1916, therefore this letter and its accompanying drawing had been kept by Grant and moved to the house amongst all manner of personal affects years after it was first received by Keynes in Athens during his trip with Grant in 1910.

August in the Attic

AG gift 183Eveline with a painting by Vanessa Bell from the Angelica Garnett Gift. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Up in the attic studio at Charleston we have been privileged to learn so much about photographing, cataloguing, researching and caring for the fascinating objects in the Angelica Garnett Gift. As it is wonderful for others to have the opportunity to work with the collection, it was a pleasure to welcome visiting museum professional, Eveline Mols, from Holland in August. Before commencing a new role at Museum Gouda, she spent two weeks at Charleston to gain an insight into collections care at a British heritage institution.

Eveline assisted Charleston’s curator, Dr Darren Clarke, with preventive textile conservation, photographing the collection, entering items onto Charleston’s museum catalogue and researching content for future exhibitions in the new Wolfson Gallery.

AG gift 162

Eveline working with the Angelica Garnett Gift. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Eveline has reflected upon her experience with us:

Charleston and the intellectual legacy of Bloomsbury are an inspiration to me.

For two weeks I was given the opportunity to work closely and behind the scenes with an exceptional collection.

For me as a conservation manager Charleston is a very interesting case. I do not need to explain why. I am now able to see how Charleston operates in terms of preventive conservation.

I had the unique experience of just being in the house, in the heart of it all, to constantly think that they, the members of the Bloomsbury group, especially Vanessa, lived their lives in this house.

It was lovely to work on the Gift with another early-career museum professional and we wish Eveline the best of luck in her new position at the Museum Gouda.

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