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.'
In 2015, Charleston ran a highly successful Art Happens crowdfunding campaign to restore Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant's iconic painted surfaces and protect them for future generations.
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.