Page last updated at 15:44 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 16:44 UK

Charleston housekeeper's art collection auctioned

Study for 'Grace in the kitchen'
A painting by Vanessa Bell of Mrs Higgens in the kitchen was sold

Paintings and artworks that belonged to a housekeeper for the Bloomsbury Group have been auctioned in East Sussex.

The items sold belonged to Grace Higgens, who worked for artist Vanessa Bell at Charleston Farmhouse, the group's country retreat.

Mrs Higgens joined the household, near Lewes, as a young maid in 1920 and went on to run it for the next 50 years.

The Bloomsbury Group were artists and intellectuals who all lived, worked or studied near London's Bloomsbury.

Mr Higgens married a Sussex man in 1934 and had her son a year later. During her time as Charleston housekeeper, she and her family often sat for the artists.

Bronze bell

Vanessa Bell and her partner Duncan Grant turned their country retreat into a hub of the Bloomsbury world.

They entertained a regular stream of visitors and Mrs Higgens would call them for dinner by standing in the hall and ringing a small bronze bell.

Mrs Higgens began her life at Charleston as a housemaid and went on to become nurse, cook, and then housekeeper, and eventually a close friend of the family.

The auction included a painting of Mrs Higgens at the kitchen table by Vanessa Bell, which was a forerunner of another work in 1943, called The Kitchen.

The painting, called a study for Grace in the kitchen, was sold for £10,000.

Another item that was sold for £5,500 was a portrait of her son, John Higgens, who is now in his 70s and still lives near Charleston. It was one of the first works to be painted at the studio in Charleston after it opened.

The auction was held at Gorringes Auctioneers in Lewes.

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