In a Bloomsbury state of mind

After going to see the excellent Radical Bloomsbury show at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery last week I was moved to take a trip to Firle, East Sussex to visit Charleston, the country home of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant which became a meeting place for their friends – the writers, painters and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury group.
Charleston is an 18th century farmhouse with a walled garden set at the foot of the South Downs. Each room inside is full of paintings, textiles and ceramics including work by Renoir, Picasso and Delacroix as well as furniture and objects from the Omega Workshops. However, I was most interested in seeing the hand-painted embellishments by Bell and Grant who (inspired by Italian fresco painting and the Post-Impressionists) decorated the walls, wonky doors and furniture. The beautiful stencilled dark grey walls in the dining room were particularly impressive, as was the richly painted large circular Omega dining table. I also loved the patched heavy curtains made of several long pieces of sewn-together contrasting fabrics, and the fact that the makeshift curtain poles were dusty with even a cobweb or two. Another delight was Quentin Bell’s witty ceramic colander lampshades.
I travelled there by train and bike using the Charleston website’s bike route guide (I took the shortest route from Berwick station) though I’d recommend avoiding cycling along the A27 and taking one of the more circuitous off-road routes if you can. Pedalling along the country roads with cars and the odd lorry whizzing past me at high speed I took courage from imagining Virginia Woolf out on her bike, probably cycling along the same roads to and from the house all those years ago.