Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Virginia at Charleston, 1960

Charleston - A Bloomsbury House and Garden

Published by Frances Lincoln Limited, 1997

Today, Charleston welcomes nearly twenty-five thousand visitors a year. Co-authored with her father Quentin Bell, Virginia Nicholson’s first book is a true insider’s view of a family home. Alen MacWeeney’s delectable colour photographs breathe life into the colourful interiors and garden of the Sussex farmhouse occupied by artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and their family and friends. 

Set in the heart of the Sussex Downs, Charleston is the most important remaining example of Bloomsbury decorative style. 

In Charleston – A Bloomsbury House and Garden, the story of this unique house is told by father and daughter, who link it with some of the leading cultural figures who were invited there, including Vanessa Bell's sister Virginia Woolf, the writer Lytton Strachey, the economist Maynard Keynes and the art critic Roger Fry. Specially commissioned photographs conjure up the living house and the decorations, paintings and colourful ephemera which crowd its rooms, while pictures from Vanessa’s family album convey the flavour of the household in its heyday. 


I am available to promote Charleston – A Bloomsbury House and Garden through appearances, interviews and articles.
For further information contact Kristina Sekyere at k.sekyere@charleston.org.uk


Excerpts from Charleston - A Bloomsbury House and Garden:
 

 

Excerpt 1

from Chapter 2  “The Dining Room”
 

Maynard Keynes, who sometimes provided fireworks to be let off after dinner, was present at Quentin Bell’s fifteenth birthday party in 1925, as was Lydia (they were newly married). Leonard and Virginia Woolf were there, and so were Duncan, Vanessa, Julian and Clive. 

Quentin Bell recalls the occasion: ‘Although the room could be illuminated by lamps I think that we had candles that evening. A good deal of Trinity Audit beer had been consumed and the party had just about reached that stage at which Maynard would oblige with a song of the ‘Vive la Compagnie’ description, when Virginia intervened. She was on form and was brilliantly amusing. There was laughter and applause and then, suddenly, she seemed to be changing her mind, rising, making as if to move from her place. Then the two people who knew her best, Vanessa and Leonard, were up on their feet, racing for the door and arriving just in time to catch her as she collapsed. She was green as a duck’s egg.

'It was the beginning of six months’ ill-health brought on by overwork and a plethora of social engagements, and the clamour and merriment of that birthday party proved more than her constitution could bear.

The dining room, Charleston

The dining room, Charleston

'But the night of the Great Covey was perhaps our finest hour. T.S. Eliot’s first visit to Charleston seemed a momentous occasion, an occasion for ordering grouse. Lottie, at that time our tempestuous but enthusiastic cook, could cook anything so long as it was a luxury and grouse suited her fine; Vanessa therefore went to Lewes to order the birds. But before she left she asked for Clive’s advice and was told by him that a bird between two was a fair allowance. Unfortunately somehow this estimate was confused and Vanessa ordered one bird for each person. Eleven birds were brought in,  resting on various dishes and platters. There was a good deal of astonishment when this covey made its appearance and some laughter; our guest of honour the poet was delighted. Eliot was funny, charming and still somehow impressive. It was a wonderful evening.'

 

Excerpt 2

from Chapter 13  “The Garden”

In the walled garden. The statue is a cast of a Giovanni di Bologna

In the walled garden. The statue is a cast of a Giovanni di Bologna

Quoting her aunt, Angelica Garnett - who described Charleston as “an earthly Paradise” – Virginia Nicholson also revives her own childhood impressions of the walled garden. 

'I was fortunate in spending my own summer holidays as a child at Charleston and I think I know what she means. If Paradise was a garden then the garden at Charleston may well be its Platonic shadow. When Vanessa painted her vision of the Annunciation in Berwick Church, two miles away, she did not have to look far for models. In that church, she and Duncan fulfilled an ambition to paint walls as Piero della Francesca and Fra Angelico had done. Here, Vanessa’s Virgin Mary is Angelica, and true to Renaissance iconography she kneels before the Angel Gabriel in a garden - but this one is walled with flint, pathed with gravel and edged with grey-green lavender. Her Madonna lilies had probably been culled from her own borders. The garden is Charleston and Vanessa’s painting is a celebration of her private Heaven.'


Gallery


Reviews

 

Elspeth Thompson, Sunday Telegraph

“…Charleston: A Bloomsbury House and Garden, a wonderful new book about the Sussex farmhouse inhabited by members of the Bloomsbury Group…”

Home Show Magazine

“An absolute must for lovers of Bloomsbury style and the result of a unique collaboration between Vanessa Bell’s late son Quentin Bell and his daughter Virginia Nicholson, this book offers a highly personal account of the evolution of one of the most amazing homes in England… Virginia Nicholson has completed her father’s work in a way that links Charleston’s interiors with some of the leading cultural figures of the twentieth century”.

Rosemary Hill, Country Homes and Interiors

“This book, which Quentin Bell left unfinished, has been completed by his daughter, a ‘patchwork’ as she says of his reminiscences, her own observations and a trawl through his papers… The book interweaves the story of the house with that of its inhabitants; for Bloomsbury devotees, an elegant if elegiac coda to a favourite theme”.

Nicola Beauman, Highbury and Islington Express

“…Now comes this marvellous book, and a poignant one, because the text consists partly of delightful comment and reminiscences by the late Quentin Bell (Vanessa’s son) and partly of equally delightful (but less quirky) comment by his daughter, Virginia Nicholson”.

Andrew Lambeth, World of Interiors

“Quentin Bell submitted the first draft of this book’s text but it needed revision and amplification, a task skilfully undertaken after his death by his eldest daughter Virginia Nicholson…”