Pink Fire Pointer Angelica Garnett: December 25, 1918 - May 4, 2012

Angelica Garnett: December 25, 1918 - May 4, 2012

Angelica Garnett at Charleston, the Sussex farmhouse where she was born.  A bust of her aunt, Virginia Woolf, stands on the right.  Photo by Jane Brown via here

I was saddened to read that Angelica Garnett died on May 4 in the South of France.  She was 93.  She was born on Christmas day in 1918 at Charleston Farmhouse, the Bloomsbury Group's country retreat in Sussex, England.  She was the daughter of the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and the niece of writer Virginia Woolf (Vanessa Bell's sister).  Vanessa married the art critic Clive Bell in 1907 and they had two sons, Quentin (1908) and Julian Bell (1910). Angelica was born in 1918 and grew up believing that Clive Bell was her father, until Vanessa enlightened her at the age of 18 that Duncan Grant was actually her father.  Angelica wrote about her struggle to deal with the psychological issues that she associated with her upbringing in the book "Deceived with Kindness."  Angelica Garnett was the last direct link to the Bloomsbury group.

Angelica Garnett with her aunt Virginia Woolf
Photo via here

Charleston was Angelica's home until she married in 1942.  She was 23 when she married the writer and publisher David Garnett, then nearly 50.  They divorced after 25 years of marriage.  As a young woman she briefly studied drama in London, but decided not to pursue it and instead became a painter like her mother.   She wrote two memoirs and was the mother of four daughters.  Sadly her life was greatly affected by her lack of a real father, since she and Duncan Grant together never acknowledged their real relationship.  It was only when she wrote her memoirs that she gained some amount of closure and comfort on this topic.  She wrote frankly about her upbringing and also captured some of the idyllic qualities of growing up at Charleston,  describing how life at Charleston seemed bathed "in the glow of perpetual summer."  Her writing brought her satisfaction and she experienced a sense of accomplishment with the publication of these memoirs.    

Charleston Farmhouse
Photo via here

Perhaps her greatest legacy was the restoration of Charleston Farmhouse, the house where she and her brothers grew up with her parents Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.  Vanessa and Duncan lived and produced art together there for 50 years.  Clive Bell also lived there at times and many of the Bloomsbury Group visited for extended stays.  Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived at Monk's House which is a short distance away and were frequent guests.  Maynard Keynes had his own room at Charleston.

The Charleston Trust has released a statement about Angelica's death saying that she was actively involved in the acquisition and restoration of the house and its contents.  After Duncan Grant's death in 1978, Angelica returned to live at Charleston and this was when her involvement began.  Her parents had decorated the walls, mantelpieces, and furniture of the house with their distinctive designs, but the house had fallen into disrepair.  Lovingly restored to its original condition and opened to the public in 1986,  Charleston Farmhouse is a wonder to see.  The house is the incredible creation of two remarkable artists -- Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant -- and every room of the house is bursting with color, pattern, texture, and happy design.  The restoration of it and opening to the public was a gift to the world.  The appearance of the house and collection today is the result of Angelica Garnett's generosity and that of her brother and sister-in-law Quentin and Olivier Bell.

The Garden Room at Charleston, decorated by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.   A painting of Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant hangs on the left wall.  Photo via here

Angelica's parents were deeply bonded over their art and created much art together at Charleston throughout their lives. They decorated the house with murals, painted furniture, fabrics, rugs, and ceramics, all of which they designed.  They painted mantelpieces, designed needlepoint rugs, pillows and wallpaper.  All of it fills the house and gives off a feeling of joyousness.  I have visited Charleston twice and I urge you to go if you ever have the opportunity.  To visit there is to be transported to the bohemian environment of Angelica's parents and to understand that art was truly the heart and soul of the lives that Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant lived there on a daily basis.   To see Charleston is to get a glimpse of "Bloomsbury" at home.  This modest home bursting at its seams with art and its lovely garden feel like an enchanted place.

Duncan Grant's art studio at Charleston.  Photo via here

Angelica Garnett at Charleston.  Photo via here

"It is always an adventure to enter a new room; for the lives and characters of its owners have distilled their atmosphere into it, and directly we enter it we breast some new wave of emotion.."  Virginia Woolf,  "Street Haunting"

Virginia Woolf could have been writing about Charleston.  Certainly "the lives and characters of the owners have distilled their atmosphere into it."  Throughout her life Angelica Garnett was a passionate supporter of Charleston, most recently donating over 8000 works by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell to The Charleston Trust.  She worked devotedly to make this home accessible to the public so that we could understand how special and unique a place it is.  We can be thankful to her for the restoration of Charleston and the opportunity she has given us to visit it today.  The Charleston Trust released a statement saying that Angelica's most recent visit to Charleston was in April 2012 when she attended the opening of an exhibition of her recent work donated to support the Charleston Centenary Project.  She was actively engaged in writing her autobiography at that time.

Angelica Garnett will be missed.