31 Mar 2023

A visit to Charleston House

Charleston House has been one of the destinations on my 'long list of places to visit'.  An invitation to stay with a friend in Sussex last weekend meant that it could actually happen.  My expectations were high, (think little Patricia on Christmas Eve levels of excitement), and holy moly, this place did not disappoint. 

In 1916, the painter Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf, and her friend and lover Duncan Grant moved to Charleston and rented the brick farmhouse along with Duncan’s partner David Garnett. It was the height of the First World War and, as conscientious objectors, Garnett and Grant needed to find farm work, deemed to be of ‘national importance’ to avoid conscription. 

Almost as soon as they moved in, Bell and Grant began to paint every surface in the farmhouse, transforming it into a living, breathing work of art, a complete contrast to the conventional interior decorating style of the time.  Over the following decades, Charleston became a gathering point for some of the 20th century’s most radical individuals who were active in art, literature, political and economic theory, known collectively as the Bloomsbury group. The group included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E M Forster.  It is where they lived out their progressive social and artistic ideals.  Their rejection of middle-class convention and collective outlook deeply influenced attitudes towards feminism, pacifism and sexuality as well as literature, economics and aesthetics.  They have been described as ‘the most constructive and creative influence on English taste between the two world wars’. 

Today you can visit the original house as well as a contemporary gallery space. The current exhibitions are "Betty Woodman and George Woodman"and "Hylton Nel: This plate is what I have to say" which both run until the end of September 2023.  There is a super cool café housed in a modern barn serving up delicious food, local wines and fabulous people watching.


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