Charleston’s Upcycling Scheme

The following are photographs taken during the evening of our workshop activities at Two Temple Place.

As for the zine we made for visitors to take home, you can access it through this link. Feel free to download it, print it and draw on the colouring pages. We would love to see how people interact with our own illustrations.

For a better reading experience, please try this link.

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the Bloomsbury group

The Bloomsbury group was an influential group of artists, writers, intellectuals and philosophers, the best known members of which included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

This loose collective of friends and relatives lived, worked or studied together near Bloomsbury, in London, during the first half of the 20th century. Their works and outlook deeply influenced literature, aesthetics, criticism, and economics, as well as modern attitudes towards feminism, pacifism, and sexuality.

by Unknown photographer, vintage snapshot print, July 1915

Most of the male members of the Bloomsbury Group were educated at Cambridge (at either Trinity or King’s College), where they first met. At Trinity, in 1899, Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf, Saxon Sydney-Turner and Clive Bell became good friends with Thoby Stephen; and it was through Thoby and Adrian Stephen that the men met the Stephen’s sisters, Vanessa and Virginia, who would later become the women of Bloomsbury.

In 1905 Vanessa began the “Friday Club” and Thoby ran “Thursday Evenings”, which became the basis for the Bloomsbury group, which to some was really “Cambridge in London”. Thoby’s premature death in 1906 would bring them even more firmly together and they became what is now known as the “Old Bloomsbury” group.

The Bloomsbury group, mostly from upper middle-class professional families, formed part of “an intellectual aristocracy”, an informal network of an influential group of artists, art critics, writers and an economist. An interesting feature of these friends and relations is that their close relationships all pre-dated their fame as writers, artists, and thinkers.

Vanessa Bell


Vanessa Bell (née Stephen) was a Post-Impressionist British painter, and sister of Virginia Woolf.

She married Clive Bell, also a member of the Bloomsbury group, in 1907 and they had two sons, Julian and Quentin. The couple had an open marriage, both taking lovers throughout their lives. Vanessa had affairs with art critic Roger Fry and with the painter Duncan Grant, with whom she had a daughter, Angelica, in 1918, whom Clive Bell raised as his own child.

Vanessa, Clive, Duncan Grant and Duncan’s lover David Garnett moved to the Sussex countryside shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, and settled at Charleston Farmhouse near Firle, East Sussex, where she and Grant painted and worked on commissions for the Omega Workshops, established by Roger Fry.

Some of Vanessa Bell’s works were related to her personal life. For instance, her illustration for To the Lighthouse, the book by her sister Virginia Woolf, relates to a beach with a lighthouse that was a part of Bell’s and Woolf’s childhood in St Ives, Cornwall.

Bell is one of the most celebrated painters of the Bloomsbury group. She exhibited in London and Paris during her lifetime, and has been praised for innovative works during her early maturity and for her contributions to design.

Duncan Grant

Duncan Grant was a British painter and designer of textiles, pottery, theatre sets and costumes.

Between 1900-1906, Grant lived with his aunt and uncle, Sir Richard and Lady Strachey and their children. When Grant was still a child, he accompanied Lady Strachey to “picture Sunday” which gave him the opportunity to meet with eminent painters. Lady Strachey was able to persuade Grant’s parents that he should be allowed to pursue an education in art. In 1902 Grant was enrolled by his aunt at Westminster School of Art, which he attended for the next three years. While at Westminster, Grant was encouraged in his studies by Simon Bussy, a French painter and lifelong friend of Matisse.

Grant was introduced to Vanessa Bell (then Vanessa Stephen) by Pippa Strachey at the “Friday Club” in the autumn of 1905.

Charleston Farmhouse

Charleston Farmhouse, the country home of the Bloomsbury Group, is a unique example of Vanessa Bell and Ducan Grant’s decorative style within a domestic context, and it represents the realization of over sixty years of artistic creativity.

In 1916, the two artists moved to the village of Firle, in East Sussex, with their unconventional household. Inspired by the Italian fresco painting and the Post-Impressionists, they decorated the walls, doors and furniture at Charleston. The walled garden was redesigned in a style reminiscent of southern Europe, with mosaics, box hedges, gravel pathways and ponds, but with a touch of Bloomsbury humour in the placing of the statuary.

Charleston became the country meeting place for the group of artists, writers and intellectuals that were the members of the Bloomsbury group – Garnett, Clive and Vanessa Bell, E. M. Forster, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, Maynard Keynes, Desmond MacCarthy, Lytton Strachey and Virginia and Leonard Woolf, among others. Some lived in Charleston for considerable periods of time, while others, despite not living there, were frequent visitors.

The rooms on show form a complete example of the decorative art of the Bloomsbury artists: murals, painted furniture, ceramics, paintings and textiles. The collection includes works by Auguste Renoir, Picasso, Derain, Matthew Smith, Sickert, Stephen Tomlin and Eugène Delacroix.

Charleston Farmhouse’s walled garden was created by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant to designs by Roger Fry. Together, they transformed vegetable plots and hen runs, essential to the household during the First World War, into a quintessential planted garden, mixing Mediterranean influences with cottage garden planting.

In the 1920s, a grid of gravel paths gave structure to beds of plants chosen by Grant and Bell for their intense colour and silver foliage. These became the subject of many still lives over their long residence at Charleston.
Dora Carrington wrote of the garden, “Never, never have I seen quite such a wonderful place! … What excellent things there will be to paint in that garden with the pond and buildings.”

However, part of the garden’s sense of luxuriance and surprise comes not from its flora but from the variety of sculptures it contains. Classical forms sit side by side with life-size works by Quentin Bell, mosaic pavements and tile edged pools. Above all, this was a summer garden for playing and painting, an enchanted retreat from the busy London life.

As Vanessa Bell wrote in 1936, “The house seems full of young people in very high spirits, laughing a great deal at their own jokes … lying about in the garden which is simply a dithering blaze of flowers and butterflies and apples.”

Learning about Charleston and the members of the Bloomsbury group who inhabited this incredible place made me want to visit it one day and become inspired, if not by the same sightings and landscapes that also inspired these artists, then for the artwork they left there.

Exhibition Review

I thought I’d include in my research for our Sussex Modernism project some of the reviews people have been writing about it. The one attached below is by The London Art File – a rather short but very informative review, describing the themes and works included.

The London Art File

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Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion

at Two Temple Place
Until 23rd April 2017

Just upstream of Blackfriars Bridge, a magnificent neo-Gothic mansion sits on the Thames northbank; for most of the year Two Temple Place presents a mysteriously blank face to the public but for a few short months it opens its doors for its annual free Winter exhibition. This year the opulent former estate office of William Waldorf Astor is hosting Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion.

This major new exhibition examines the reasons why radical artists and writers were drawn to the countryside and seaside villages of Sussex in the first half of the 20th century and looks at both the artistic communities they created and the impact they had on the political and creative life of Britain at the time.

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The Garden Enclosed by David Jones, 1924 © Tate

Sussex was a major centre for early-20th century modernism and many important artists and collectors made…

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