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.

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.'

Permanent collections

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 works by Renoir, Picasso, Sickert and Delacroix. Take advantage of the guided tour (Wed-Sat), which focuses on 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.

Visitor information

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

Venue details

Charleston near Firle, Lewes East Sussex BN8 6LL 01323 811265

Entry details

Free with National Art Pass (standard entry £11)

23 Mar – Sun 30 Oct

House and Garden
Wed – Sat, 1pm ​– 6pm, last entry 5pm (Jul - Sep, 12noon - 6pm)
Sun, 1pm ​– 5.30pm, last entry 4.30pm
Shop and Café open a hour before the House and Garden