The Charleston Attic

Tag: Free Talk

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.

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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.

The Charleston Attic Spotlight Lectures

Over the coming weeks we will be giving free public talks about our research at Charleston which focus upon items uncovered in the Angelica Garnett Gift. These papers mark the end of our residency at the Trust, as it will soon be time to hand over the Attic torch to Charleston’s two new interns and depart for pastures new. These talks are the culmination of our individual research projects, and will – we hope – offer new insights into the lives and work of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell through largely unseen objects and artworks.

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Alice and Samantha in the Attic at Charleston, with Vanessa Bell’s study of Angelica Garnett as the Virgin Mary for the Berwick Church murals. Photograph © The Charleston Trust 

The Creative Consequences of the War: The 1940 Venice Biennale

On Thursday 10th September Alice Purkiss will be presenting her research on Duncan Grant’s involvement with the 1940 Venice Biennale. Having received the invitation in 1939, Grant had set about selecting paintings for display, however, only months before the works were due to travel to Italy, the British Council withdrew from the show. Although the official reason given was due to the risk of sending valuable artworks abroad in wartime circumstances, political forces were also at play. Inspired by Grant’s own invitation to the show that was found within the boxes of the Angelica Garnett Gift in the Attic Studio, Alice’s talk will explore a significant moment in both British art history and Grant’s career at the beginning of the Second World War.


CHA-E-159. Invitation sent to Duncan Grant for the 1940 Venice Biennale. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

The Maternal Paradox: The Private Portraiture of Vanessa Bell

On Thursday 17th September Samantha Wilson will be presenting her work on Vanessa Bell’s dichotomous role as artist and mother. Samantha’s talk is focussed upon a sketchbook dated 1908 which contains drawings made by Bell of her son, Julian, as a child. As a deeply personal and private object, the sketchbook demonstrates both the love and pride of a mother and the artistic desire to explore a constantly changing subject. In her talk, Samantha considers the uneasy relationship between the eye of the mother and that of the artist, and how the emotional attachment of one can cause conflict with the practical detachment of the other.


CHA-P-621-73. Vanessa Bell, drawing of the artist’s son Julian, 1908. Sketchbook. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Both talks will be held at Charleston, at 1pm on the specified days, and will last roughly 30 minutes. The talks are free to attend and do not require booking. Charleston is open for guided tours on the days of the talks, as are the garden, café and shop. House tours can be booked online here.

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