Charleston Farmhouse : An Artists’ Home and Garden

Welcome to CF shop

Welcome to Charleston Farmhouse Shop

In some ways very different from Monks House but in other ways similar; on the Friday of our stay we headed to Charleston Farmhouse just a few miles from Laughton Place. It’s a rather more slick presentation in that tickets are sold and one is booked on one of the timed tours which take place at twenty minute intervals throughout the opening hours (just Wednesday to Sunday during the season). No photography is allowed in the house. But like Monks House there is colour inside and out and the garden is relaxed and colourful and again reflected the atmosphere of the house itself.


Charleston Farmhouse

“Charleston is a property associated with the Bloomsbury group. It was the country home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and is an example of their decorative style within a domestic context, representing the fruition of over sixty years of artistic creativity.

In 1916 the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant moved to Sussex with their unconventional household. Over the following half century it became the country meeting place for the group of artists, writers and intellectuals known as Bloomsbury. Clive Bell, David Garnett and Maynard Keynes lived at Charleston for considerable periods; Virginia and Leonard Woolf, E. M. Forster, Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry were frequent visitors. Inspired by Italian fresco painting and the Post-Impressionists, the artists decorated the walls, doors and furniture at Charleston. The walled garden was redesigned in a style reminiscent of southern Europe, with mosaics, box hedges, gravel pathways and ponds, but with a touch of Bloomsbury humour in the placing of the statuary.


… humour in the placing of the statuary

“It’s most lovely, very solid and simple, with … perfectly flat windows and wonderful tiled roofs. The pond is most beautiful, with a willow at one side and a stone or flint wall edging it all round the garden part, and a little lawn sloping down to it, with formal bushes on it.” — Vanessa Bell

Charleston Pond

The pond is beautiful

The rooms on show form a complete example of the decorative art of the Bloomsbury artists: murals, painted furniture, ceramics, objects from the Omega Workshops, paintings and textiles. The collection includes work by Auguste Renoir, Picasso, Derain, Matthew Smith, Sickert and Eugène Delacroix.” [Adapted from here]

We arrived by 12 noon, when tickets go on sale, and our tour was booked for 1.20pm. In the meantime there was a delicious shop to mooch around and a video to watch. There is a cafe but it’s very limited in what it serves.

Our House Tour with Meg focused on A Day in the Life of Charleston, taking us on a journey of daily life in the house which included the Charleston kitchen not normally visited on other days. In fact the gardener actually lives in the house and it is his private kitchen.

From Charleston we headed for the nearby village of Berwick where we had lunch at Cricketers Arms and afterwards visited the Church of St Michael and All Angels where Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell decorated the walls with murals. The church itself had a rather unusual feel not just because of the famous murals but because in contrast to so many churches the windows are plain glass.

All the scenes are set in the local Sussex countryside and they were painted, for the most part, during the Second World War and they used members of their families and their Bloomsbury circle as models.


The Nativity by Vanessa Bell

A Sussex trug

The Nativity Close-up : A Sussex Trug


Christ in Majesty by Duncan Grant


The Annunciation by Vanessa Bell




Two Art Talks

Last week I went to two art talks and very interesting they were too. One was an evening reception at The Mercer Gallery in Harrogate organised by the Art Fund. The other was ‘Tea with the Curator’ at Temple Newsam House near Leeds.


Self-portrait of Frank Holl as a young man [source]

Frank Holl : Emerging from the Shadows [Mercer Gallery, Harrogate 23 November 2013 to 30 March 2014]

‘Frank Holl (1845-1888) is one of the great painters of the Victorian period, notable for his tragic social realism as well as his penetrating portraits. Revered in his lifetime, he died young whilst at the height of his powers. His early death meant that he never fully received the acclaim that his work merited. This exhibition represents the first modern retrospective of this significant artist.’ 

I have been aware of Holl since the mid-1990s when one of my masters papers in Victorian Studies was on the subject of narrative paintings with a theme of poverty and the poor in Victorian England. The Holl picture we looked at was The Seamstresses now owned by The Royal Albert Museum in Exeter. It is on show at the Harrogate exhibition.


Seamstresses. Frank Holl. 1875. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter.

Jane Sellars, curator of the Mercer Gallery, introduced Holl and told us more about his life and travels and spoke about each of the, perhaps 30, paintings. It was interesting to note the themes of Holl’s narrative paintings on loan from prestigious galleries around the country, including The National Portrait Gallery – soldiers off to fight in Afghanistan, sweatshops, guilty bankers – all themes that appear in the news today. So not much has changed there. Jane pointed out the “Rembrandtesque” effect in many of these paintings.


No Tidings from the Sea. Frank Holl. 1870. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust. [source]

Even Queen Victoria bought one of his pictures No Tidings from the Sea (1870 and  in The Royal Collection). Later Holl gained commissions to paint portraits and his subjects included national figures like William Gladstone and W.S.Gilbert. The BBC ‘Your Paintings’ website shows 68 of his paintings. Jane quoted several times from his eldest daughter’s, Ada Mabel Reynolds,  1912 biography of her father. There is an accompanying book/catalogue to the show. Earlier last year the exhibition was shown at the newly refurbished Watts Gallery in Surrey. In Harrogate the pictures have been hung beautifully for ease of viewing and the lighting is excellent for all except maybe one glazed picture.

Last May on a visit to Highgate Cemetery I noticed his tomb and photographed it.

Frank Holl tomb

The Tomb of Frank Holl in Highgate Cemetery

I’m very pleased that Frank Holl is at last emerging from the shadows.

Rembrandt : etchings from the Collection of Leeds City Art Gallery [Temple Newsam House 19 November 2013 – 20 July 2014]

TNH side view

It’s very difficult to get a ‘front on’ view of Temple Newsam. The land drops away significantly from the front of the house and a wider angled camera lens is required to capture it closer up. The photo above is of the side view. Temple Newsam’s history goes back beyond the Domesday Book. Lord Darnley former husband of Mary Queen of Scots was born here in 1545.

Stable Block

The Stable Courtyard makes a much better view

So, last Thursday afternoon I made my way to Temple Newsam for Tea with the Curator of the Rembrandt Etchings Display.

This season’s Winter/Spring exhibition at Temple Newsam House offers the rare chance to see a selection of prints made by the greatest printmaker the world has ever seen – Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606 – 1665). The exhibition will run for nine months and will consist of two displays; the first will examine Rembrandt’s portraits and figure studies and the second, will showcase a selection of Rembrandt’s biblical prints.

Rembrandt’s career as a printmaker ran parallel with his painting, but he rarely treated the same subject in both medium and only on a few occasions did he reproduce his paintings in print. Indeed for Rembrandt, print was a distinct art form which he pursued as actively as he did his painting; quickly learning the technical skills involved in etching Rembrandt virtually recreated this technique. His impact and contribution to printmaking is unprecedented and is so significant that it is still reflected in etchings produced today.

Rembrandt poster
Portraits and People, 19th November 2013 – 30th March 2014
Bringing together Rembrandt’s prints of people the first half to this exhibition will focus on his early experimental prints in which Rembrandt developed both his technique and his interest in showing emotion and thought through detailed observations of facial expressions. Highlights include a selection of Rembrandt’s iconic self-portraits, etchings of his mother and wife Saskia and a group of Rembrandt’s prints of beggars.


The Artist’s Mother [source]

Theodore, the curator, and I and four others assembled in the Dining Room for a friendly discussion and an opportunity to examine etching and engraving tools. The tool box and tools themselves that Theodore brought along had all been the property of Frank Brangwyn. Theodore explained the processes and their differences to us before taking us upstairs to the small but excellent display of Rembrandt etchings.

Frank Brangwyn's tools

Frank Brangwyn’s Etching Tools

The etchings themselves are small and exquisite and beautifully displayed. Magnifying glasses are supplied through which we could study the minute detail of each print.

Tes is served

Tea and cake and biscuits are served

On returning to the Dining Room for tea and cakes we had further opportunities to examine at close quarters etchings and tools and a brief slideshow of a 16th  century printmaking shop which reminded me of my visit last month to the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp.

The current etching display will be replaced next month by a further series from the 70 or so donated to the Art Gallery on the theme of Rembrandt and the Bible.

Outdoor Reading Pleasure : Public Benches in Chur and a Swiss Artist in England

The above title is my translation of the name of a little leaflet I picked up in Chur Station on Sunday. In German it’s “Lesegenuss in Grünen – offentliche Lesebänke in Chur”. Anything with “reading” in the heading is bound to catch my eye. So today, when the work was done I made myself a cheese salad sandwich and headed off on the train again into Chur to find out more …

Intro leaflet

In addition to the Lesebank-Project leaflet I’d picked up a handy folded map of the city. The nearest Lesebank to Chur Station is in Friedhof Daleu. A Friedhof is a cemetery. Never mind. It turned out to be a lovely quiet shady garden with benches and chairs and I soon spotted the (empty) Lesebank on one of the main avenues.

Your Reading Bench

Inside the box is a selection of books – possibly about 30 – fiction and non-fiction, for children and adults, with a contents list and a ‘visitors’ book for comments. The Lesebank is the joint project of the Bündner Volksbibliothek and the Kantonsbibliothek. Two local public libraries but I’m not too sure what the difference between them is. There are 6 of these Reading Benches throughout the city.

The Contents

I wasn’t about to start reading a novel in German as the person before me had (Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse) so I picked a small book called “The loveliest gardens and parks in Switzerland” to study whilst picnicking. I made a note of two gardens – both also cemeteries – in the Graubünden Canton.

Chur has several bookshops – all of which stocked at least a shelf or two of English language books – but nothing that I hadn’t either read already or fancied the look of.

57 Reichsgasse

From the reading bench I went in search of the birthplace [57 Reichsgasse] of the painter and founder member of our Royal Academy Angelica Kauffman. Although born in Chur she travelled in Switzerland and Italy with her father who was also an artist and to London at the age of 25. She was a close friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds. The ground floor of her former home is now a cafe and there is a little hanging shelf unit where a few cards and books and the cafe drinks list are displayed.

AK Born here

AK display

Here you can see a slideshow of Kauffman’s paintings – many of which are portraits – owned by public galleries throughout the UK including some National Trust properties. The Artist Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting, 1791 or 1794, [below] was acquired with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2002 for Nostell Priory, in West Yorkshire.

Nostell Priory

Paula Rego – coincidence

If you watched all of the video recording of The Brilliant Brontes in the last but one post you will have seen Sheila Hancock inspecting and discussing the drawings of Jane Eyre with the artist Dame Paula Rego. By coincidence a week later one of the most prominent museums (yes, there are several!) in Cascais turns out to be devoted to the work of Paula Rego (and it has a nice cafe too). Shortly after our arrival we decided to take a walk and investigate.

Casa das historias

The Casa das Historias opened in Cascais in 2009

Rego was born in Lisbon in 1935 to keen Anglophile parents who sent their daughter to an Anglican English language school in Lisbon and later to school near Sevenoaks and art school (The Slade) where she met her future husband Victor Willing. She became a naturalised British subject and was created a Dame of the British Empire in 2010. She divides her time between Britain and Portugal.

Here are some of her Jane Eyre works  currently on display at the gallery Casa Das Historias in Cascais.

Paula Rego Jane Eyre

Paula Rego’s Jane Eyre

Paula Rego Jane Eyre 2

Paula Rego’s Lithograph Jane Eyre

Paula Rego Jane Eyre book

The Book of the Exhibition

Didn't have room for the PR soap

I had no room for the Paula Rego soaps in my luggage!