The London Art Fair is collaborating with Charleston Trust, the East Sussex country home of the Bloomsbury Group, for its annual Museum partnership. The Trust will take over a section at the front of the fair to display paintings, ceramics and historical artefacts from this—artistic and literary retreat. Select works by the Bloomsbury group artists, including Vanessa Bell’s portrait of Virginia Woolf and Duncan Grant’s painting of the celebrated farmhouse, will take centre stage.
Nestled within the embrace of the South Downs National Park, Charleston emerged as more than just a rural residence. This farmhouse, once the home of the visionary painters Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry, transcends the conventional boundaries of house and studio. A crucible of creativity, it was the rendezvous for the avant-garde minds of the 20th century—the Bloomsbury Group.
Here, within the embrace of Charleston, these radical artists, writers, and thinkers congregated to sculpt visions of an alternate society. Beyond its structural confines, Charleston embodies a realm where art and experimental ideation intertwined with the fabric of everyday life. It is a living testament to a bygone era where intellectual ferment found solace in the picturesque landscapes of the South Downs.
Charleston: A Creative Haven
Nestled in the idyllic countryside, the Charleston farmhouse was a vibrant epicentre for the Bloomsbury Group—a gathering of intellectuals, artists, and writers who left an indelible mark on 20th-century British culture. Charleston became the quintessential backdrop for the group’s intellectual pursuits, uninhibited discussions, and collaborative artistic endeavours.
The story began in 1916 when artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, both pivotal figures in the Bloomsbury Group, discovered Charleston. Enchanted by its rustic charm and timeless allure, they transformed the farmhouse into a haven for artistic expression. Vanessa Bell, sister to Virginia Woolf, along with her two sons (with literary publisher Clive Bell) and Duncan Grant, created a living canvas within the walls of Charleston.
The house became a haven for their artistic experiments, adorned with murals, painted furniture, and unconventional decor. The Bloomsbury artists embraced Charleston’s bohemian spirit, rejecting conventional norms in favour of a liberated approach to art and life.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Charleston evolved into a sanctuary where creativity thrived. Writers like Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey frequented the house, engaging in intellectual dialogues that rippled through the cultural landscape. The unconventional arrangements and open relationships within the Bloomsbury Group challenged societal norms, reflecting their commitment to personal freedom.
Charleston’s significance extends beyond a physical space; it symbolised the Bloomsbury Group’s shared ethos, characterised by rejecting Victorian conventions and celebrating individuality. The artistic collaboration at Charleston influenced literature, painting, and philosophy, leaving an enduring legacy that transcends its rural setting.
After World War II, the house fell into neglect but experienced a renaissance in the 1980s when the Charleston Trust was established to preserve its cultural heritage. Today, visitors can explore the eclectic interiors, admire the decorative art, and immerse themselves in the spirit of the Bloomsbury Group. Charleston is a historical monument and testament to the power of collaboration and the enduring resonance of free-spirited creativity.
The talks program will include:
Panel Discussion Nathaniel Hepburn, Director & CEO of Charleston
Cecily Rainey, Manager, Acceptance in Lieu & Cultural Gifts Scheme at Arts Council England Norman Coates, Donor/Benefactor
Nancy Saul, Senior Programme Manager, Art Fund (writer of recently published “Everybody is a winner: A guide to giving (and selling) art and cultural artefacts to UK Museums and Galleries)
Wednesday 17 January 2024 12 – 1 pm Talks Theatre, Business Design Centre, Islington Chair Vanessa Thorpe, News and Feature Writer, The Guardian
Charleston will unveil a selection of secured artworks alongside some of the most significant pieces from its collection.
This panel discussion will focus on the Charleston collection, its campaign and vision for expansion, and the donors who have become part of its legacy, but will also talk more broadly about the benefits available to collectors transferring personal collections into the public domain, which helps to enrich the UK’s collections for the enjoyment of generations to come.
“My Year At Charleston” Book Here
Artist Tobit Roche in conversation with Artlyst Editor Paul Carter Robinson. The talk will take place in the intimate VIP lounge from 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm on Thursday, 18 January. Book Here
Tobit Roche talks about his work and inspiration as an artist growing up in the Avant Garde world of the Bloomsbury Group’s country retreat in Charleston. The talk will be about an hour with a Q&A session.
Luke Edward-Hall In Conversation with Rachel Mae Snider – Art & Interiors and The Bloomsbury Aesthetic
Thursday 18 January 2024
3 – 4 pm Talks Theatre, Business Design Centre, Islington Luke Edward Hall – Artist & Designer Rachel Mae Snider – Theatre Maker & Interiors Writer
Join renowned artist and designer Luke Edward-Hall in conversation with Rachel Mae Snider, Theatre Maker and Interiors writer, who will discuss art and interiors inspired by the Bloomsbury group of artists and thinkers and their enduring influence on artists and designers today.
Inspired by the London Art Fair’s partnership with Charleston, the 2024 Platform section of the Fair brings together art that shines a light on queer love and life selected by guest curator Gemma Rolls-Bentley, whose group exhibition ‘Dreaming of Home’ is currently on view at Leslie Lohman Museum of Art in New York City.
In the early 20th century, the historic house and artist studio became a queer space for members of the Bloomsbury Group, including Bell’s sister Virginia Woolf. The name of Platform’s exhibition, A Million Candles, Illuminating Queer Love and Life, takes inspiration from a quote from Woolf’s 1928 novel Orlando, an imaginative biography of her lover and muse Vita Sackville-West, in which the protagonist changes sex from male to female.
Rolls-Bentley brings together art from ten galleries that reflect the resilience, beauty, and passion of queer love and life.
“I’m delighted to work with the London Art Fair to curate Platform 2024 in response to this year’s partnership with Charleston. I’m fascinated by the historic house and the stories of the creative community that thrived there. As a queer person, I find something extremely validating and nourishing about spending time in a place that’s so rich with LGBTQ+ history because our histories are so often erased or difficult to uncover. I’m taking an artist-led approach to curating the section of the fair, and I’m excited to present art that comes from a wide range of diverse perspectives as we illuminate queer love and life at a time when LGBTQ+ life is facing increasing challenges in the UK and globally.” – Curator Gemma Rolls-Bentley.
Words/Photos P C Robinson © Artlyst 2023