Charleston House visit

Nestled in bucolic Sussex gardens the seventeenth-century exterior belies the riot of imaginative decoration inside; a legacy of its function as artistic residence to the Bloomsbury Group.

'It will be an odd life, but…it ought to be a good one for painting,' the artist Vanessa Bell said of Charleston, the Sussex farmhouse that in 1916 became a focal point for the Bloomsbury Group; that amorphous circle of writers, intellectuals and artists who lived and worked in Bloomsbury before the First World War and beyond.

Artist Vanessa Bell married art critic Clive Bell in 1907 and they had two sons, Julian (who died in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War at the age of 29 and Quentin (the artist and potter).

The couple had an open marriage, both taking lovers throughout their lives. Bell had affairs with art critic Roger Fry and with the painter Duncan Grant, with whom she had a daughter, Angelica in 1918, whom Clive Bell raised as his own child. Vanessa, the sister of the writer Virginia Woolf, first rented the brick farmhouse in 1916 with her lover and fellow artist Duncan Grant, where they remained until Vanessa's death in 1961 and Duncan's in 1978.

The first two years of residency were spent there with Grant's other lover, the writer David "Bunny" Garnett. Following the outbreak of World War I, the two men, both committed pacifists, worked the land as an alternative to military service. The group wanted to define a new way of living, free from the constrictions of Edwardian society, and their art - inspired by Italian fresco painting and the Post-Impressionists - was to become a platform for their ideals, and their defining legacy.

Almost as soon as Vanessa and Duncan moved into Charleston, they began to paint, not just on canvas, but over every available surface - walls, of course, but also tables, chairs, bedheads and bookcases; all glowed with swirls and spirals of colour and pattern, full of life and vitality, that was as far from the conservative, conventional interior decoration of the time as it was possible to be.

'The house seems full of young people in very high spirits, laughing a great deal at their own jokes...lying about in the garden which is simply a dithering blaze of flowers and butterflies and apples,' wrote Vanessa in 1936.

Over the following decades, Charleston became a gathering point for some of the 20th century’s most radical artists, writers and thinkers known collectively as the Bloomsbury group. It is where they lived out their progressive social and artistic ideals. Today, it continues to be a place that brings people together to engage with art and ideas.

The house is now a museum and gallery & can be visited throughout the year.