The Charleston Attic

Tag: The Charleston Trust

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:

Detectives in The Attic: A ‘Ballet and the Bloomsbury Group’ Update

An enormous ‘Thank You’ is due to a Charleston Attic reader (and ballet aficionado) for suggesting that the sketch of a dancer discussed in the previous post is likely to depict a character from the Ballets Russes’ production of Petrushka. Written by Alexandre Benois and Igor Stravinsky, and choreographed by Michel Fokine, the ballet tells the story of three puppets, and was first performed in Paris in June 1911 with Nijinsky in the leading role. Petrushka would become one of the Ballets Russes’ most celebrated and widely performed productions. In 1949, dance historian Grace Robert wrote of it: ‘Although more than thirty years have elapsed since Petrushka was first performed, its position as one of the greatest ballets remains unassailed. Its perfect fusion of music, choreography, and décor and its theme—the timeless tragedy of the human spirit—unite to make its appeal universal.’


Alexandre Benois’ design for the First Street Dancer. Image sourced here


Left: Grant’s sketch. Photograph © The Charleston Trust. Right: A page from the 1911 souvenir programme. Image sourced here

Grant’s sketch and annotations closely match one of Benois’ designs for a costume (note the winy purple & dark purple stripes of the First Street Dancer’s leggings), and a photograph of a character printed in the 1911 programme (note the striped bodice, bell-shaped skirt and white cap of the dancer in the top-left vignette). Although Grant was not involved in the production himself, it is highly likely that he would have attended a performance at some time and recorded the unusual outfit of the dancer on stage in a sketch. Kept amongst other designs in Grant’s studio at Charleston, perhaps this small drawing was later used as a source to inspire his own costume designs for Jacques Copeau’s productions – we can only speculate. What is certain, however, is the importance of cataloguing and researching the items in the Angelica Garnett Gift to enable such discussions which both enrich and enliven existing Bloomsbury scholarship.

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