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Friday 14 May 2021

Charleston: Artists Home & Cultural Centre In The South Downs National Park Reopens This Month

One of Sussex's most important cultural destinations is poised to reopen its doors to the public, with two new exhibitions, dinner service display celebrating famous women and a new café.
Credit P Fewster

Just as it was a home and gathering point for artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and the Bloomsbury group over 100 years ago, Charleston represents a wonderful place to meet up with friends and family after months of separation. 

You can wander in the footsteps of some of the giants of 20th century literature, art and economics; including Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, T.S. Eliot, Clive Bell, Roger Fry and John Maynard Keynes.

Along with the house and garden, Charleston will also open two new exhibitions (19 May – 30 August 2021), the first major retrospective of work by British artist Nina Hamnett (1890-1956) and a series of new pieces on paper by artist Lisa Brice (b.1968). 

Born in Tenby, Wales, Nina Hamnett became a central figure in the art scenes of London and Paris during the first two decades of the 20th century. 

An excellent portraitist, she also possessed a vivacious spirit and was a visually striking, flamboyant and popular figure, both in Fitzrovia and Montparnasse.  

Bringing over 50 works to Charleston – including many which are rarely shown, or indeed have never been seen in public before - the exhibition explores Hamnett's skill as a draughtsperson, not least her expressive portrait paintings of some of the best-known writers, artists, sculptors and collectors of the time, such as those of artists Edward Wolfe and Walter Sickert, and that of writer Horace Brodzky. 

Addressing the historic relationship between artist and model, Lisa Brice has made a new series of drawings in response to Nina Hamnett's work, demonstrating her continued interest in challenging traditional, male depictions of the female nude.


Brice's paintings and works on paper contest the artistic trope of the male gaze and the depiction of women, more often than not by men, for men. 

In Brice's portrayals of women, mirrors, smoke and metal grilles veil her subjects, while her use of vivid blues obscures the naturalistic skin tones of the body to further discourage an easy 'read' of the female form. 

Layered brush strokes capture her figures in snapshots of action, giving them energy and a sense of movement that evokes and responds to the likes of Manet, Degas and Picasso. 

As befits the two exhibitions, Charleston itself is a complete work of art, filled at every turn with the creative impulse and vitality of Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and their contemporaries. 

Almost as soon as they moved to Charleston in 1916, they began to paint; not just on canvas, but on every surface imaginable – walls, fireplaces, tables, chairs, bedheads, bookcases and doors – even the bathtubs weren't off limits. 

Today, it remains the only complete preserved Bloomsbury interior in the world, and stands testament to Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant"s progressive and pioneering spirit. 

There are several rooms to explore, including the economist John Maynard Keynes' bedroom, the kitchen, Vanessa Bell's bedroom and the studio.

The artists applied equally creative attention to the beautiful walled garden, converting the vegetable plots and chicken runs that were essential to the household during the First World War, into a quintessential artists' garden, mixing Mediterranean influences with cottage garden planting. 

Part of the garden's sense of luxuriance and surprise comes from the variety of sculpture it contains. 

Classical forms sit amongst life-size works by Quentin Bell, connected by mosaic pavements and tile-edged pools. 

The resultant effect is as much a delight for art lovers as it is to the keenest of gardeners. 

To help you make a day of it, Charleston is delighted to announce a new partnership with Lewes-based Caccia & Tails

For beautiful-looking plates of a different kind, no visit to Charleston would be complete without seeing the Famous Women Dinner Service. 

A collection of 50 hand-decorated plates celebrating famous women throughout history, from Helen of Troy and Cleopatra to Mary Queen of Scots, Jane Austen and Greta Garbo.

It was commissioned by National Gallery Director Kenneth Clark in 1932, and painted by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant at Charleston. 

Not long after its completion, the service disappeared from public view into private collections, and did not return home to Charleston until 2018.

Nathaniel Hepburn, Director and Chief Executive of Charleston said: 

"After an extraordinarily challenging year, it's wonderful to be able to reopen Charleston as a space for visitors and our local community to once again meet with friends and family and enjoy art, the beauty of the landscape, and inspiring creativity. 

"Our staff and volunteers are excited to welcome visitors back and with funding now in place to rebuild the farm track, Charleston is transforming from hard-to-get-to to unmissable!"

For more information visit www.charleston.org.uk and follow @CharlestonTrust on Twitter, @charlestontrust on Instagram, like the Charleston Facebook page & subscribe to the Charleston Trust YouTube channel.

by: Mike Cobley



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