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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 and follow @CharlestonTrust on Twitter, @charlestontrust on Instagram, like the Charleston Facebook page & subscribe to the Charleston Trust YouTube channel.

by: Mike Cobley

Related links

Caccia & Tails Charleston


Midsummer Day, 21st June, sees the return of Make Music Day; a worldwide celebration of music in person, online and beyond. 
Credit Karina Barberis

In a world where we're taught to aspire to unattainable levels of perfection, Brighton-bound Dublin singer-songwriter-producer Orla Gartland's unfiltered honesty is a breath of fresh air. 
Credit Mike Hoban

Glyndebourne Festival 2021 continues in June with further performances of Kát'a Kabanová and Il turco in Italia and a concert from Robin Ticciati and the London Philharmonic Orchestra that explores ancient and modern English music.
Credit Danilo Moroni

Lost Dog's award-winning performance, Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me) is to be revived and re-staged at Brighton Dome, on Saturday 26th June.
Credit Edward Gilroy

Saving Grace will be visiting De La Warr Pavilion on next month, featuring Robert Plant OBE on vocals. This will be the singer's first time performing at the East Sussex venue based in Bexhill-on-Sea.

Arriving on the scene in summer 2019, the Brighton Comedy Garden enjoyed a hugely successful first year with thousands of comedy fans flocking to the festival.

Sometimes the best way to move forward is to step back: to reflect on who you are, where you've come from, and where you'd like to go next.
Credit Steph Wilson

Lump – the product of London singer-songwriter Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay of the band Tunng – return with a new track from their upcoming sophomore album Animal, as well as announcing a date in Brighton, later this year.

In March 2020 character comedy duo Horseplay (Kathy Maniura and Derek Mitchell) were poised for a big summer. Kathy had just won Leicester Square Sketch Off. Derek had been granted an 'Exceptional Talent' visa by the Home Office.
Credit David Bickerstaff

Brighton-based award-winning art documentary filmmakers, David Bickerstaff & Phil Grabsky, announce the release of their latest film, Sunflowers, which will be in UK cinemas from 8th June 2021.

Something mysterious, sensual and exotic has arrived in town from now until 26th June 2021, especially for the Brighton Fringe 2021
Credit Ilse Bing

The Glyndebourne Archive holds a wealth of material about the people, productions and origins of its world-renowned opera house. 

Fifteen months of darkness have passed. No parties. No funding. But no worries: it might have been the bleakest ever period in the long and storied history of Brighton's The Arch, but the club never gave up hope. 

As one of the organisations in Brighton and Hove in receipt of a grant from the government's Culture Recovery Fund, Brighton Early Music Festival are delighted to be playing a part in bringing live music back to the city with a Midsummer Season of eight outdoor events.

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