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The Art of the Downs

“It will be an odd life, but…it ought to be a good one for painting.”

So said Vanessa Bell on moving to Charleston House, which was to become the centre of the group of artists, writers and thinkers known as the Bloomsbury Set.

The South Downs have inspired generations of great artists from Turner to Ravilious. A trip to the National Park offers plenty of opportunity to see Old Masters and modern masterpieces, in setting from the grand Petworth House to award winning modern galleries.

Why not begin your artist’s odyssey at Charleston House near Firle or Monk’s House near Rodmell, the Sussex homes of Vanessa Bell and her sister Virginia Woolf respectively.

Woolf used to walk across the Downs to Charleston to visit her sister and their friends who formed the influential Bloomsbury Set in the early 20th century. Charleston is decorated with paintings, ceramics and textiles by Bell, Duncan Grant and other artists. Many of their works can also be seen in Woolf’s home. Both houses have wonderful English gardens.

For something more contemporary, meander along the steep scarp slope of the Downs to the picturesque village of Ditchling below Ditchling Beacon.

The award-winning Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft holds a collection of the work of artists who lived in Ditchling from the beginning of the 20th century, including wood engraver and typographer Eric Gill, poet and painter David Jones, the printer Hilary Pepler and the weaver Ethel Mairet.