On Friday 25th June, the A level art and literature students had the wonderful pleasure of visiting Charleston Farmhouse, the hub of the Bloomsbury Group – an associated group of some of the most progressive English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists of the first half of the 20th century.
The House was originally part of the Firle Estate and was always rented out to those who lived there. In 1916, painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant began renting and moved into the house with Vanessa’s two sons, Julian and Quentin, and Duncan’s lover David Garnett. Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell, although they were no longer romantically involved, later moved into the house following the breakout of WWII, wanting to move out of London.
The house became a gathering point for the Bloomsbury Group and regular visitors included: the famous economist Maynard Keynes who even lived at the house during his relationship with Duncan Grant; Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell’s sister, often visited with her husband, philosopher and author Leonard Woolf; painter and critic Roger Fry was also a frequent visitor, as were the fiction writer E. M. Forster, poet and essayist T. S. Eliot and the writer Lytton Strachey who had relationships with both Duncan Grant, despite being his cousin, and Maynard Keynes. Visiting the house allowed us to see and experience the rich history of the house as well as all those who lived and visited there.
We began by touring around the house itself, seeing the rooms which have been restored and restructured to look as it did during the period in which Vanessa and Duncan lived there. We were able to admire not only the art hung on the walls, but the art and painting which the family did on most of their furniture and walls in order to keep painting even when they were low on supplies. The guides were fantastic, giving us additional information and stories about all of the artwork, whether they were gifts from other artists and great minds, typically other members of the Bloomsbury Group, or done by the family – often copies of famous paintings or landscapes of the house and gardens.
Each of us had different favourite paintings and favourite rooms – art student, Juliette, was particularly excited by the painted bathtub, while my personal favourite was Duncan’s bright and airy painting studio which had his paints and easel still layed out. We were then able to walk around the gardens and see some of the sculptures done by Quentin Bell, Vanessa and Clive’s son.
This led us to the two art exhibitions taking place at the house – of Nina Hamnett and Lisa Brice. We enjoyed looking at the two collections of paintings, each in a different style that we were able to appreciate in its contrast to the other.
Finally, we took a trip to the shop where many of us bought books, either novels or poetry by writers such as Virginia Woolf, informative biographies of the Bloomsbury group or other associated figures of the time, or collections of artwork by Bloomsbury artists or the artists on exhibition.
It was truly amazing to see the place from which so many creative and radical ideas emerged, and all of us were able to appreciate the importance of those individuals’ work in building the progressive world we are now able to express our own creativity in.
Thanks to Mrs Kruschandl and Ms Levett for a wonderful trip.
Written by Charlotte Fallon, Lower Sixth