This is Charleston Farm at Firle in Sussex. The picture was painted in the artist's studio over several years. The unusually bright colours show Duncan Grant’s interest in Fauvism. The Fauves used bright, clashing colours to express feelings and emotions. Grant met Henri Matisse, a leading member of this group, in 1909. He saw more of the groups work in Roger Fry’s 1910 Post-Impressionist exhibition in London.
Grant lived at Charleston Farm from 1916 with Vanessa Bell (neé Woolf), a painter and the sister of Virginia Woolf. The pair moved there from London following the outbreak of World War I so that Grant could avoid conscription by working as a farm labourer. The couple each had a studio at the farmhouse and decorated the entire building, including walls, fireplaces, door panels and furniture, with their paintings, fabrics and ceramics. They kept the house after the war ended as a summer home. The house has been preserved as it was and has been upon to the public since 1986.
Grant and Bell met through the Bloomsbury Set, a London-based group of artists and writers who met regularly to discuss their work and ideas about modernism and art. Charleston became a meeting place for the Bloomsbury Set outside of London.
Bell was married to the writer Clive Bell, also a member of the group, when she met Grant. Her marriage had broken down following the birth of the couples’ two sons Julian and Quentin. Bell had a brief affair with Roger Fry in 1911 before she fell in love with Grant.
The majority of Grant’s relationships were with men. His notable partners included the economist John Maynard Keynes and the politician Arthur Hobhouse. It is thought that the sexual relationship between Grant and Bell was short lived. They remained dedicated to each other until Bell’s death in 1961 despite Grant’s frequent relationships with other men. Bell’s son Quentin once recalled that ‘she managed matters so that this impossible love affair was made possible. And she had a wonderful gift…of turning her enemies into friends.’
Grant and Bell moved to Charleston with her two children and Grant’s lover David Garret. Bell gave birth to Grant’s daughter Angelica there in 1918. She was brought up as Clive Bell’s daughter but discovered Grant was her father when she was 18. She later married Garret in 1942. The complex nature of the personal relationships between the Bloombury Set members has sometimes overshadowed the significance of their work as artists and writers.
Grant and Bell are today considered two of the most influential British artists of the time. ‘Farm in Sussex’ demonstrates Grant’s modernist style. It was painted in his studio over a long period of time mainly from sketches and drawings. It has the robust modelling and bright colours that characterise the artist’s work. The painting was finished in 1934, the same year that Roger Fry died. He had been a close friend of both Grant and Bell and a regular visitor to Charleston. The painting reflects Grant’s affection for the Farm and the people he associated with it.