Monday, November 20, 2017


The garden at Charleston

 The pond

 The front of the house, with bonus bearded man

  Walking across fields of gold from Charleston to Berwick Church

 Berwick Church

 Killer colour combo in Lewes

This summer, when we were in London for a wedding, we added on a night in Lewes at the beginning of the weekend, so we could visit Charleston, the country home the painter Vanessa Bell rented for decades, which was frequented by other members of the Bloomsbury Group, including John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry (and of course Bell's sister Virginia Woolf), as a temporary home, meeting place and refuge.

In Lewes we stayed in this lovely B&B, run by an artist. Our bedroom had a jasmine bush trailing outside the window, so this place ticked all the boxes and more and was the perfect prelude to our day trip.

I am fascinated by the Bloomsbury Set and am working my way through their oeuvres and their biographies. Years ago I bought two hefty volumes by and about Virginia Woolf, respectively, and more recently it has been the painters in the circle that have caught my attention. I left the museum shop at Charleston with Angelica Garnett's honest memoir about growing up as the daughter of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant (for the first 17 years of her life she thought Clive Bell was her father) and a card of this dog, as I love long-nosed animals and the story behind this one.

We did a guided tour of the house, which was a good introduction (photos of the interior can be found on the website in the first link above), but the next time I would like to go on a Sunday, when there is a volunteer in each room and people can wander around at their own pace. The house is a treasure trove not only of all the artworks (both by inhabitants of the house and by artists they collected), but also of the idiosyncratic Charleston interior design by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. While my tastes are more minimalist, their style works so harmoniously, and on our return to Ireland I did feel the urge to decorate the panels of our doors and create my own wallpaper and fabric.

After the tour we spent some time in the beautiful cottage garden (my day job involves working closely with the University art collection, which includes this painting by Roger Fry - it was exciting to see the pond in real life) and then walked the forty minutes or so across the fields to Berwick Church, which has murals painted by Bell and Grant and Bell's son Quentin. We had dinner and drinks sitting in the beer garden of a nearby pub (we were very lucky with the weather) before getting a taxi back to Lewes, which is worth visiting in itself.

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