The Sussex home of the artists Vanessa Bell (sister of Virginia Woolf) and Duncan Grant is the only completely preserved example of a Bloomsbury interior in existence, and bears witness to the extraordinary period of creativity of this loose grouping of artists and intellectuals in their 1920s and 1930s heyday. The house was always a place of pilgrimage for Bloomsbury acolytes, and opened to the public in 1986, six years after Grant's death. Now it is renewing its status as the home of boundary-pushing art with a new development and exhibition space, and the complex will play host to a number of exciting new installations in 2018-19.
Coming back to their natural home this autumn is Bell and Grant's astonishing Famous Women dinner service, a set of 50 plates painted in 1932 for a commission by Kenneth Clark, who was presumably slightly surprised when he received the finished article. Each dinner plate features a different famous woman, from Cleopatra to Greta Garbo, and including Bell's sister, Virginia Woolf.
Also on display in the new space from September 8 will be an exhibition centred around Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando: A Biography and its reception in contemporary art. The novel's protagonist Orlando, whose story spans several generations, changes gender midway through the narrative; this will also intersect with another exhibition–the photography of Zanele Muholi, the South African activist who takes portraits of the black queer community.
The new exhibitions will be housed in a new building by Jamie Fobert Architects, which includes five gallery spaces in total. The building is similar in style to existing barns and outhouses at Charleston, two of which have been renovated by Julian Harrap Architects to serve as an events space and a theatre. The new buildings are surrounded by courtyards designed by Tom Stuart-Smith, ensuring there are plenty of pleasant spaces for visitors to spread out in.
‘Orlando at the present time’ and ‘Zanele Muholi: Faces and Phases’ will run from 8 September 2018 – 6 January 2019. The Famous Women Dinner Service will be on display until summer 2019 at Charleston, Firle, Lewes, East Sussex BN8 6LL. For more information visit charleston.org.uk
Houses belonging to interesting people