A Bloomsbury Retreat - Developing my Sussex Series

From the Dower House sitting room at sunset


Together with three other artists, I spent four days in October in the East Sussex countryside absorbing the Bloomsbury aesthetic and developing a number of new sketches for paintings I'll one day add to my Sussex series. 

In the familiar words of my son, "now if you didn't know ..." the Bloomsbury Group comprised many great artists and thinkers of the early 20th century. Central to the group were Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant who made their home at Charleston House near Firle, East Sussex. Virginia Woolf, Vanessa's sister, and her husband Leonard lived nearby at Monk's House. And eventually, Vanessa's son, Quentin Bell, would move into the nearby Dower House with his wife Anne Olivier. It is The Dower House where my fellow artists and I settled in for our self-organised mini retreat. 

We were all working on different projects, so for me it was the perfect opportunity to explore an area close to home, but very often driven through in haste. I brought sketchbook, camera, and ideas - and left with nearly a dozen fully sketched out drawings for future glass paintings. Some of which have been in gestation for two years and more, but never yet put to paper - and others which emerged directly out of my Dower House activities. Below are a very few of the nearly 600 pictures I took over 4 days and the final sketches which emerged from those pictures and the (far fewer) sketches which accompanied them. 

Below, the Dower House Garden and reflecting pool, as viewed from the inside on a rainy morning

Below, views from Monk's House towards Virginia Woolf's writing room with flowers from Leonard's original garden plan (he was the gardener of the two)

Below, Charleston House with Vanessa Bell's studio on the right. Here, Vanessa was the gardener, though many of the flowers may have been gifts from the Monk's House garden.

Below, Firle Folly photograph taken by one of my fellow artists, Jayne Crow. The peacock is one of a flock that might seen in the Beanstalk Cafe gardens come finer weather. I have been told there is a robin in this picture too, but the sketch shows him up much better!

Below, a future sketch in waiting ... the Firle Village shop and post office. 

And to finish, one of my favourite pictures of the stay, Annie Watts's sketch painting of the bouquet we found on our arrival, posed in the kitchen armchair with original painted floor lamp and inglenook fire. 

Unlike Charleston House, here we were able to touch, use, and make ourselves comfortable in every room. For anyone who has ever wanted to stay at Charleston, this is by far the closest I think you can get - which made this bottle the perfect fizz for toasting creativity in Sussex.

(If you can't read it, it is indeed their 'Bloomsbury' label ;)

Older Post