"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"
The farmhouse itself dates from the 16th century and is a typical example of a Sussex farmhouse of that period. The interior was decorated by the Bloomsbury Group artists in their distinctive style. Through the repetition of certain motifs, such as Vanessa Bell's circles, it is possible for the visitor to understand which artist worked on which part of the house. The colours used to paint the walls and woodwork have a clarity and freshness reminiscent of Italian fresco painting, although chosen from a slightly muted, more northern European palette. The Post Impressionists were another influence on the Bloomsbury style.
Colanders were painted and used as lampshades to produce a scattered lighting effect, with paintings and drawings displayed on every wall. Other artists in the collection at Charleston include Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir, André Derain, Walter Sickert and Eugene Delacroix. Almost every surface, including the furniture, is covered in paint or decorated in some way. There are also textile and ceramic works.The overall effect of this is to create a warm, lively, almost celebratory atmosphere, conveying a strong sense of individuality and experimentation.
On entering the house, visitors' coats and bags are hung in the hall, as they would be in the home of a friend. This is the first intimation that Charleston is above all a home and second a museum. Visiting Charleston is a thoroughly voyeuristic experience: the tour guides explain in detail who slept where, and with whom. The art studio at the back of the house has been left untouched - easels are assembled, unfinished works cover the walls, interesting still life objects crowd the windowsill.
Leaving the house through the studio, the visitor enters the garden, redesigned in the Moorish style with straight gravel paths and box hedges, mosaics, statuary and small, formal ponds. At the bottom of the formal garden there is an allotment, providing fruit and vegetables for the inhabitants. It is currently managed organically, and only plant cultivars that were available at the time are being grown, for the sake of historical accuracy.
At the front of the house there is a large duckpond, contemporaneous with the farmhouse. A life size bronze female nude is exhibited to good effect here, encouraging the viewer to join her in peaceful contemplation of the surroundings.
The Charleston Festival, comprising lectures and events relating to the Bloomsbury group, is held at the farmhouse in summer. There is also a Crafts Council shop, selling art and books, a small tea room, and a small exhibition space showing collections of modern and antique art.
Getting to Charleston
Charleston is sign-posted off the A27, 7 miles east of Lewes, East Sussex between the villages of Firle and Selmeston.
There are regular train services to Lewes from London, Brighton, Portsmouth and Hastings. Call National Rail enquiries: 08457 484950
Charleston is open from 1 April - 29 October 2006
April - October
Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun and Bank Holiday Mondays 2-6pm (last entry 5pm)
Summer opening July - August
Wed Thu Fri Sat 11.30am - 6pm
Sun and Bank Hol Mon: 2pm- 6pm
Entry is by guided tour only from Wed-Sat. Tours last an hour and leave every 20 mins.
Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays are unguided.
Children 6 - 16 years : £4.50
Disabled (ground floor access only): £4.50
Tel: 01323 811626
Sources: personal visits and www.charleston.org.uk