Charleston and Monk House

by katharinecambridge

This Saturday I went to Charleston House with a group of students from my program. I had earlier emailed the professor of the Bloomsbury class – he was organizing the trip – and he graciously let me come along.

So what is Charleston House, what is Bloomsbury?

Quick rundown: Charleston House was the home of Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and a menagerie of changing intellectual and artistic guests in the early part of the twentieth century. They called themselves the Bloomsbury group, and rejected the Victorian culture they had grown up with, to create an environment where free thinking and free living and beauty took precedence. The product was a gorgeous house filled with Post-Impressionist and Italian fresco paintings, hand-painted walls and fireplaces, and a ceramics collection from across Europe. Clive Bell (Vanessa’s son), Maynard Keynes (the economist), Roger Fry (artist/critic), and Virginia Woolf (Vanessa’s sister) were all part of the group, and lived in or visited the house often. Alternative, bohemian living before anyone knew what that was.

The sisters ~ Vanessa

The sisters ~ Virginia

Duncan Grant. Gay heartbreaker.

Unfortunately, I could not take any photographs within the house, but I found a couple on the internet. Each room was gorgeous, and my friends and I got dizzy from inspiration and plans for our future homes.

The parlor and central hub of the house.

One side of the studio, which is kept as if the artists merely stepped out momentarily to go for a walk. Paint tubes oozing and dried, scraps of paper tacked to the fireplace.

Other side of the art studio.

The garden behind the house was also gorgeous, and we were given free reign to romp in it.

There is a cafe and gift shop on the property as well, so we stopped and ate sandwiches and sketched each other “Bloomsbury style.”

I’m regretting the fact that I took a picture of my sandwich. I do not want to become one of these people! (Click the link). But I loved the bird plate and the table cloth. The walls were whitewashed brick and the garden was just outside.

Some kitties in the museum portion of the gift shop. Every three months or so they invite an artist to show work inspired by the Bloomsbury group. I want a pair!

Then we visited a small church a mile or so down the road, where Vanessa and Grant had been commissioned to paint the inside.

Notice the WWI soldiers on the left. Sorry for the poor photo quality!

Here is the professor of the class, talking to us about the paintings. Many of the church members were disgruntled by Vanessa and Grant’s work, since it was hardly traditional. Everyone in this nativity scene is wearing current-day clothing, for example.

This is one panel of the pulpit. Lovely! And it looks so easy to replicate, too. Makes you itch for some white furniture, doesn’t it?

Again we got plenty of time to explore the grounds and try to decipher names through the moss on the weathered tomb stones. One of my friends found this rock in a nearby field. It looks like an arrowhead to me…what do you think? I took a picture and nestled it back in the grass.

The final part of the day was visiting Virginia Woolf’s family home called Monk’s House. I took some pictures of the inside, and many, many more for my sweet mother who will get them emailed to her! The house and all of its knick knacks reminded me of my houses growing up…

Here is Virginia’s famous room of her own, which was separate from the main house.

One thing I will say, for honesty’s sake, is that I did carefully take pictures around a lot of people. It’s wonderful to know how many other living people are as excited to be somewhere as you are, but at the same time it is strange to see a person’s private place swarming with bodies. Wouldn’t it be weird to visit the future and see your college dorm room preserved in the way “they” thought you kept it, and a family from Norway crowded around your bed and taking a picture? If we are even so lucky…

Here is how I saw her room.

Here is how I am letting you see her room!

The house looked out onto beautiful English countryside, and had a pond, statues, another writing studio, and a bevy of orchard trees and sweet peas.

I enjoyed myself (Henry David) Thoreau-ly.