Charleston – The Bloomsbury Muse

Charleston - The Bloomsbury Muse seeks to showcase the huge role that the group's Sussex retreat played in their artist endeavours. Peter Gray reports.

A major new exhibition at the Philip Mould Gallery this autumn will shine a light on the inspirational role played by Charleston Farmhouse in the work of several artists from the Bloomsbury group.

The House, which played host to members of the legendary group for over half a century, has drawn comparisons to Monet’s countryside estate in Giverny.

Not just a country retreat but also a much loved family home, Charleston was first spotted by Leonard and Virginia Woolf in the summer of 1916. Virginia’s sister, Vanessa, would later put a deposit on the Sussex house after receiving a glowing review of it from her famous sibling.

Charleston soon became a much loved summer retreat for the Grants and their well to do friends with its acres of land, pond, fruit trees and vegetable beds providing the perfect space from the stresses of urban living.

Although the family initially used the house as a summer retreat, the venue would become their permanent home shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War.

With wartime restrictions prevented travel abroad, the family decided that the Sussex house would make the perfect countryside retreat as well as providing the perfect inspiration for their work.

Charleston – The Bloomsbury Muse features 32 paintings inspired by the setting, with work by the likes of Bell, Duncan Grant and Dora Carrington.

From still life to interior scenes, portraiture to landscapes, the exhibition covers a broad range of genres from some of the UK’s most influential artists in their natural habitat.

Highlights of the show include The Pond by Vanessa Bell, The Hammock by Duncan Grant, (c. 1921-2) and Apples and Vinegar Bottle (again by Bell).

The Pond was the first fruit of Vanessa Bell’s work at Charleston. A thrillingly realised of…. the painting revealing the influence of European modernism on the artists work.

The Hammock, meanwhile, manages to capture an intimate family moment at the Sussex farmhouse, with Vanessa Bell, a tutor, and her three young children caught enjoying a blazingly hot summers day.

Apples and Vinegar Bottle is a fine example of the kind of still life that Bell produced during this period in her life, featuring, amongst a random collection of brix and brac, a colourful and distinctive ceramic bottle purchased by Bell on one of her summer visits to Italy. The bottle has remained at Charleston, and will be on display alongside the painting at Philip Mould.

A number of character portraits round out the exhibition with a wonderfully atmospheric portrait of Julian Bell (Vanessa’s son) and a portrait of Vanessa’s daughter Angelica being the pick of the bunch.

The portrait of Julian was painted by Duncan Grant and depicts the young man several years before he met his tragic end in the Spanish Civil War at the age of just 29.

The portrait of Angelica Bell by her mother Vanessa captures a poignant moment of intimacy between mother and daughter and features the younger Bell in a seated pose.

The sitter would later come to symbolise the complex and sometimes incestuous relationships of the Bloomsbury group when she married David Garnett, her fathers one time lover. Angelica had only come to know the truth about her own parentage at the age of 19, when she was told that she was the child of her mother’s friend Duncan Grant rather than man she had always called father, Clive Bell.

Gallery owner Philip Mould had this to say about the work: “The combination of art and this rural English escape has always captured my imagination – particularly given the compelling cast of protagonists who dwelt and thrived there. There are few times in our cultural history when the artistic record matches the written and spoken about one with such completion. This exhibition is about a house and its occupants who have not just come down to us in words and written memories, but in painted shapes and colours.”

Charleston – The Bloomsbury Muse will be at the Philip Mould Gallery from the 14th of September until the 10th of November 2021. More information about the exhibition can be found here.

For information on other great exhibitions in London, please click here.

-London's Best Events-
What: art exhibition
When: 14 Sept - 10 Nov 2021
Where: Sussex