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‘It is not so much a house as a phenomenon’ Quentin Bell once said of Charleston. It was in 1916 that the phenomenon came into being, as Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and David Garnett made the move from Suffolk to Charleston, where Clive Bell and Maynard Keynes were also to be regular visitors. As conscientious objectors Grant and Garnett were exempted from military service providing they continued to work on the land and both found employment on a nearby farm. It was Virginia and Leonard Woolf, who lived locally, who had originally spotted the late 17th century Sussex farmhouse situated at the foot of the South Downs and encouraged Vanessa to make the move. Over the next 60 years the house was decorated by Bell and Grant, they painted walls, doors and furniture and produced decorated ceramics and needlepoint designs for their home.
After the death of Duncan Grant The Charleston Trust was formed to preserve the house and its remarkable collection, it has been described as ‘One of the most difficult and imaginative feats of restoration current in Britain’.
Charleston now hosts an active range of other associated events . Amongst these are a summer school, an annual festival, the Charleston Gallery, the quarterly Canvas publication, the Crafts Council listed shop and the continuing activities of the Friends of Charleston (who are now 1,400 strong).
Historic house or home
Wed-Sun & Bank holidays
Wed - Sat 1300 - 1800 (1200 – 1800 July & August)
Sun & Bank holidays 1400-1800
Last entry 1700
Closed: Mon Tues
Children (6-16) £5.00
Themed Fridays (not July & August) £9.00
OAPs (Thurs only) £6.50
Students (Thurs only) £6.50
Unemployed (Thurs only) £6.50
Charleston is the only surviving complete example of the decorative work of Bell and Grant, with walls, doors and furniture painted in their exuberant style. The house shows an evolution in decorative style throughout its different rooms. Initially only Vanessa’s bedroom (now the library), Clive Bell’s study door and window and Duncan’s bedroom were decorated. Later the designs spread throughout the house, including the spare room in 1936 and the garden room in 1945.
Charleston not only houses an impressive collection of art by its inhabitants but also a varied collection of other artist’s work including sculpture by Renoir and Gimond and paintings by Fry, Picasso, Sickert and Derain.
The collection is continually developing - recent acquisitions include Duncan Grant’s ‘Self-Portrait in a Turban’ 1909 purchased with support from The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, The National Art Collections Fund and The Pilgrim Trust and Duncan Grant’s copy of Piero della Francesca’s ‘Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino’ 1904/5 (this purchase was the first project to be supported by the Quentin Bell Commemoration Fund founded in 1997). Amongst recent loans are ‘Flowers against Chintz’ by Duncan Grant, 1956, from the Arts Council Collection and a bronze bust of Lytton Strachey by Stephen Tomlin, circa 1930, on loan from the Keatley Trust. The Tate Gallery have lent two pictures to the collection each season since 1993.
Archives, Costume and Textiles, Decorative and Applied Art, Fine Art, Personalities
Charleston Festival: The Public Poet
- 16 May 2014 8-10pm
Carol Ann Duffy was appointed Poet Laureate in 2009. In her much-loved work, she is a great celebrant and her new poem to mark the Charleston Festival’s 25th Anniversary will be revealed tonight for the first time.
She will also read from across the range of her work, including from her latest collection, The Bees, which won the Costa Poetry Award and contains ‘Last Post’ (written for the oldest surviving soldiers of the First World War), and from 1914, Poetry Remembers, which features her tribute to Wilfred Owen.
Her other award-winning collections include Mean Time; The World’s Wife and Rapture.
Charleston Festival: Loose Ends and Extras
- 16 May 2014 6-8pm
Asa Briggs and Ian McEwan with Michael Farthing
Asa Briggs is one of our most venerated social historians. His influential academic career encompassed the Vice-Chancellorship of the University of Sussex and prestigious posts at Oxford and Harvard.
His books include the groundbreaking Victorian trilogy; an account of his time as a cryptographer in Bletchley Park, Secret Days; and the first instalment of his memoir.
He discusses the latest instalment, Loose Ends and Extras, with renowned novelist, Ian McEwan, whose most recent book, Sweet Tooth, is partially set in the University of Sussex, where he was a student.
Chaired by Michael Farthing, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sussex.
- Not suitable for children
Charleston Festival: An Officer and a Spy
- 17 May 2014 7:30-9:30pm
Robert Harris’s An Officer And A Spy is a gripping re-telling of the Dreyfus Affair, which he describes as ‘perhaps the greatest political scandal and miscarriage of justice in history’.
The case divided fin-de-siècle France into Dreyfusards and those who were anti the Jewish army captain, wrongly convicted of treason. Emile Zola (author of J’Accuse), Matisse, Monet and Pissaro were in the former camp; Degas, Renoir, Rodin and Cezanne in the latter.
Robert Harris discusses the affair with Hilary Spurling, acclaimed biographer of Matisse. His previous books include Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Ghost, Lustrum and The Fear Index.
Charleston Festival: An Appetite for Wonder
- 17 May 2014 5-7pm
Richard Dawkins is a ground-breaking biologist; an internationally renowned science writer; a public controversialist and advocate of scientific reason in a world beset by irrationalism.
His major books, The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker and the God Delusion were all landmarks. He was voted the world’s Top Thinker in 2013. Now, in the first part of his autobiography, An Appetite for Wonder, he relaxes a little, giving us the story of his personal odyssey.
Tim Radford’s The Address Book finds the cosmic dimension in his Southern England surroundings. He was variously Science, Arts and Literary Editor of The Guardian.