The Famous Women Dinner Service

The Famous Women Dinner Service includes 50 dinner plates commissioned by Sir Kenneth Clark in the early 1930s from the Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

In the centre of each plate is a portrait of a famous woman from history or contemporary life such as the biblical Queen of Sheba, movie star Greta Garbo, and Native American heroine Pocahontas. The artists purchased blank white plates from Wedgwood and grouped them into four categories: 12 actresses, 12 writers, 12 beauties, and 12 queens, plus two plates bearing the artists’ own faces.

The Famous Women Dinner Service is a stand out example of decorative arts and a milestone in the careers of the artists. It is a demonstration of Bloomsburys’ understanding of gender equality and the significance of female stories and histories that are often untold and suppressed such as the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning who disobeyed her father to marry Robert Browning and escape to Italy.

The completed set of 50 plates, which feature portraits of “famous women” throughout history
The completed set of 50 plates, which feature portraits of “famous women” throughout history
Applicant: 
The Charleston Trust
Location: 
Charleston, Firle, Lewes, East Sussex, BN8 6LL
Region: 
South East England
Grant awarded: 
£310,000
Year awarded: 
2018

Anglo-Saxon treasure and Bloomsbury Group dinner service among four ‘at risk’ heritage treasures saved for the nation

The Arts Minister Michael Ellis has announced over £1million joint investment by both National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and the Art Fund. Norfolk Museums, the National Trust, Charleston Trust and the V&A all acquire heritage of international significance.