Words: Kairen Kemp


Explore alternative ways of thinking, living and working.

Charleston Farmhouse is a magical place in which you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time to when Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant moved here from London, along with Duncan’s lover David Garnett, and Vanessa’s two young sons, Julian and Quentin. It was an opportunity to explore new ways of thinking, living and working.

It seems as though every inch of the house is a canvas for self-expression and the work is conserved in perpetuity.

As well as the farmhouse in Firle there is now a new building in central Lewes which holds a variety of changing exhibitions. I visitedDorothy Hepworth and Patricia Preece: An Untold Story there to discover the extraordinary and moving story of the duo whose secret artistic collaboration and lifelong romantic partnership remained hidden for decades.

You discover the untold story of a remarkable duo exploring their life through paintings and drawings, works which were created by Hepworth but exhibited under the signature of her lifelong partner, Preece. Here, the artists are recognised as collaborators and co-conspirators for the first time.

Where Hepworth was shy and prolific in the studio, Preece was charismatic; and together they agreed that Preece would exhibit Hepworth’s paintings under her own name, selling the works to sustain their art studios and shared life. This artistic charade fooled patrons and fellow artists, from Virginia Woolf and Duncan Grant, Augustus John and Kenneth Clarke to Clive Bell. 

Normally one attends an exhibition and you’re immersed in the work of the artist/s but in this case there is the other level of fascination of the story of these remarkable women. I felt I was constantly questioning what was the climate at the time that led to Dorothy and Patricia keeping their relationship a secret from everyone.

Dorothy Hepworth’s paintings are wonderful, both still lifes and portraits where she captures the soul of her sitters in what Clive Bell called “psychological depth”. Her self-portrait, painted after Patricia’s death, is haunting and for me portrays her dreadful loss.

Charleston are offering, on the last Sunday of June, July and August, Pay What You Can Days for their new season of exhibitions at Charleston in Lewes. Tickets grant you access to ‘Dorothy Hepworth and Patricia Preece: An Untold Story‘ and ‘Duos: The Art of Collaboration‘

Dorothy Hepworth and Patricia Preece: An Untold Story: 27 March–8 September 2024.


Steven Graham
Author: Steven Graham

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