In the midst of the turmoil of the Second World War the Bloomsbury artists Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Quentin Bell were invited to decorate the interior of the small rural church of St Michael and All Angels, Berwick in the South Downs National Park, East Sussex. The resulting paintings and decorations are considered to be one of the most important decorative schemes in this country. Sir John Rothenstein, director of the Tate Gallery at the time, said of the paintings that ‘they must, I think, be accounted among the best paintings to be made in church or chapel in England during the present century’.
This book describes the story behind this remarkable commission. It also explores how the artists responded to the scriptural passages they were given and the way in which they related their work to the architecture of the church.
Peter Blee read Natural Sciences at St John’s College, Cambridge and after graduating, began a career in ecology, combining it with an interest in landscape design. He later trained as an Anglican priest at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. Following ordination he served as curate at St Nicolas, Guildford and then as Associate Minister at St Boniface, Exeter. In 2003 he was appointed Rector of St Michael and All Angels, Berwick together with the neighbouring churches of Alciston, Arlington, Selmeston and Wilmington.
Reviews and Articles
Sussex Life magazine September 2017 -
Sussex Life magazine December 2016 -
Much Ado Books -
and at www.muchadobooks.com.
“…not only definitive when it comes to the art-
Julian Bell (Artist -
“Wow! I was expecting a Pitkin-
“I have enjoyed the book so much; it is very well written and such a perceptive and evocative account.”
AW June 2017
“…the book arrived today in first-
“Even more may be gained, from Peter Blee's scholarly, perceptive, and beautifully produced account of The Bloomsbury Group in Berwick Church. This will surely re-
As Peter Blee (Berwick’s current incumbent) clearly, and scrupulously, documents, both Bishop Bell’s vision and determination that the Berwick murals should signal ‘the re-
of religion’ (p.169) and also how the evident sincerity, creativity and professionalism with which Duncan and Vanessa -
The work generated genuine synergy between both parties. If the final project, completed in a remarkably short time, still seems both uneven and amateurish, Blee’s careful homework on the artists’ historical sources, his sensitivity to their complex family dynamics (seeing Vanessa’s ‘Annunciation’ as a form of ‘occupational therapy’ after her son Julian’s death in Spain) and above all, his own very acute and informed theological commentary on every section of the artwork itself, make this an exceptionally rewarding corrective to some earlier, more negative, appraisals of the Berwick oeuvre.”
Graham Howes, Emeritus Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge in ‘Art and Christianity No.92 -
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