Today we went to Charleston for those who don’t know, it was the home of Virginia Woolf’s sister; Vanessa Bell.
I had wanted to visit for many years, having first read about it in the early 90s. I stumbled upon the Letters of Violet Trefusis and Vita Sackville West in a second hand book shop in Gloucester in the early 90’s, after reading that I read a lot more of this fascinating groups work, they were named after the place they initially met; Bloomsbury, London. It must have been a magical group to have been apart of, living in such a very modern way in such old fashioned times.
A lot has been written about their lives, so wanting to learn more we headed out into the crisp autumn sunshine and drove over to Lewes. As we drove up the small farm track, it was if we were driving back in time. The house has been preserved at great expense, millions in fact; to try and keep it in the moment it was left. They have done a great job, as you walk through the door you expect to see Vanessa Bell and her family appearing to welcome you in and offer you a cup of tea.
We were greeted by a very modern face, welcoming us in and sharing the story of the house with us as she took us from room to room. We started in the front room, all their books are on the shelves, the walls and doors are beautifully painted. It’s an amazing testament to their talents and also as I say talents the joy of the house is that they all seem to have been involved in the work. I asked the guide (sadly I didn’t get her name) who had painted the walls in the dining room, she replied that it had been a family affair and even the children had been involved. Quentin had made the lampshades that Liz sadly compared to colanders, though I have say she had a point J Every part of the house has been hand painted, the doors, windows, fireplaces but they are not random acts of art, there is a synchronicity there; as the guide mentioned Vanessa was keen on her circles and they are to be found in various parts of the house. In the bedroom that had belonged to Vanessa they have put a painting up that was actually cut in half and found in a cupboard having a second incarnation as shelves.
I asked the guide whether she thought that the family could have imagined that 60 odd years later people would be paying to walk around their home. The guide said that there is a story of Quentin as a child pretending to be a tour guide to guests; so maybe in jest they had half expected it.
As we came to the close of the tour we were led into their studio, which was amazing bathed in light. Their postcards and memories were on the mantelpiece, pictures of their lives as they were, when they lived here. We were shown out into the garden, which is also very beautiful.
All in all it is a magical place, lost in time. Not only did it make me want to read more of their work but I would also love to have the imagination and of course skill to make my home such a personal odyssey as they did with theirs but then if we could all do it, it wouldn’t be such a treasure to behold!
for obvious reasons we were not allowed to take pictures inside, but you can see them here http://www.charleston.org.uk/