The Charleston Attic

Tag: The Charleston Trust

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.

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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.

Frieze

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.
Photograph
© 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
1924.[1]

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: www.tate.org.uk/art/archive/tga-8010-5-1338/, www.tate.org.uk/art/archive/tga-8010-5-1337/

[2] Tate Archive, Postcard from Duncan Grant to Vanessa Bell, 24 December 1924, Online access: www.tate.org.uk/art/archive/tga-8010-5-1339

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.’

First_Street_Dancer

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

CHA-P-1231-RMontage_Petrushka

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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