- Free entry with National Art Pass.
- View venue & entry details
In 1916 artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant moved to Sussex, establishing their home at the 17th-century farmhouse of Charleston as the hub of the Bloomsbury Group's activities outside London.
© Tony Tree courtesy of the Charleston Trust
Clive Bell and John Maynard Keynes both lived at Charleston for a time, while the Woolfs, EM Forster and Lytton Strachey were all frequent visitors. 'It's most lovely, very solid and simple, with … perfectly flat windows and wonderful tiled roofs', wrote Vanessa Bell of her home. The outward simplicity of which belies the imaginatively decorated interior - with its frescoed walls and painted furniture. It was Quentin Bell, Vanessa's son, who summed-up the Charleston experience, proclaiming it 'not so much a house as a phenomenon.'
Charleston is part house museum and part gallery, displaying the full gamut of the decorative arts of the Bloomsbury Group. In addition to the murals and colourful furniture, visitors can see ceramics and textiles, as well as paintings by Renoir, Picasso, Sickert and Delacroix. Visit on a Friday and take advantage of the guided tour (changed every two years), which focuses on a particular aspect of Bloomsbury life at Charleston.
The garden is as much part of the museum as the house itself, and has been substantially redesigned by the artists to evoke the formal elegance of the gardens of southern Europe. Box hedges and gravel pathways frame flowerbeds overflowing with shrubs and blooms, with statues adding an occasionally humorous note.
Art Funded works
Funded in 2007, Iceland Poppies was restored to Charleston where it had previously hung for over four decades. A rare early work by Vanessa Bell, the understated symbolism and 'concentrated mood' of this still life suggest an autobiographical reading.
Portrait of John Maynard Keynes (funded in 2005) was painted by his sometime lover Duncan Grant during the First World War. It purportedly shows Keynes drafting an all-important telegram to America to obtain the loan that would secure Britain's survival.
Attached to the main house is Charleston's Gallery, home to an Angelica Garnett exhibition, currently showcasing some of her most recent work. It will be followed in late May 2012 with an exciting Annie Liebovitz show of images from her recently published book Pilgrimage.
Charleston's Outer Studio, which has at various times functioned as the family's laundry, apple store and garage, now houses the museum's endearingly unpolished café. There is a great deal of charm in its brick walls and mismatched selection of comfortable sofas, but in good weather take your pick of the homemade cakes, sandwiches and soups on offer and retreat to the sunny seclusion of the Folly Garden.
Art we've helped buy at Charleston
Free entry with National Art Pass (standard entry charge is £9.50)
28 Mar – 28 Oct
Wed – Sat, Guided tours only, 1 – 6pm (12 noon – 6pm, Jul and Aug), last tour 5pm
Sun and Bank Holiday Mondays, freeflow, 1 – 5.30pm, last entry 4.30pm