Sunday, 6 October 2013

Bloomsbury Revival

There's a shoot in the new (November) House & Garden which features furniture painted by Cressida Bell.  Subsequently, I've become a bit obsessed.  It transpires that painting furniture is by no means the only thing that Cressida Bell does, but simply one thing in a portfolio of fabulousness.  Just look, for instance,  at this hand-painted lamp and lampshade:

These amazing cushions (obviously):

This rug!  (She's designed several):

And finally, she makes cakes! (She made a magnificent purple and white creation for one of the three parties that the Editor-at-Large of Vogue US, Hamish Bowles, was given to celebrate his 50th birthday.  There's a picture of it in the October issue):

As if all that weren't enough, she has also designed a number of fabrics and wallpapers, does private commissions (what I wouldn't give to have a whole house painted and decorated by her!) and written a couple of books:  Cressida Bell's Cake Design: Fifty Fabulous Cakes and The Decorative Painter: Painted Projects for Walls, Furniture and Fabric.  All of which has made Cressida Bell my latest pin-up.  I mean, she makes all my favourite things, literally.  I think I'm most in love with the lamps, and am therefore trying to work out where I can fit in a couple of extras in this house (no mean feat:  Sholto already has two bedside lamps.)  For now, I've ordered both books;  obviously I love cakes, and I'm totally up for painting all our furniture.

Cressida also has rather an interesting pedigree:  she is the daughter of Quentin Bell, and the granddaughter of Vanessa Bell (and therefore the great-niece of Virginia Woolf.)  And she is, in a manner, working in the Bloomsbury tradition - Duncan Grant, who lived with Vanessa Bell, painted china (I'm still trying to establish whether I like it or not.  I probably do. I think, if I were to start collecting it, I'd soon love it):

It just so happens - and incidentally I do not think that this is just coincidence - that I'm currently reading a review copy of The Angel of Charleston, which is the biography of Grace Higgens who was Vanessa Bell's (and therefore to an extent Duncan Grant's) housekeeper.  Although, saying 'housekeeper' - albeit technically her title - is underselling her.  Vanessa Bell painted a portrait of her:

which is where the picture on the book jacket is taken.   The biography is written by Andy Stewart MacKay, who I was at university with (I like to keep tabs on my peers, where possible.  One girl who was in my year, Harry Eastwood, has written several cookery books - seriously, look at her amazon page.  Every time I think about her I feel somewhat overwhelmed.)  Anyway, Andy is really, really nice, and the book is very well written, well researched and fascinating - certainly for anybody with any interest in the Bloomsbury Group, or for anybody interested in 'life below stairs' (though, technically, Grace's wasn't.  She lived on the top floor of the London house.) 

It feels like the Gods have spoken.  I have got to go and visit Charleston, which was Vanessa Bell's country house and which is in West Sussex and open to the public from the beginning of March until the end of October every year.  It's got an incredible collection and an incredible-looking shop which, among other things, sells ceramics, including mugs by Cressida Bell!  

I'm predicting a Bloomsbury revival.
The Angel of Charleston by Stewart MacKay can be ordered here