Shani Rhys James: tea on the sofa, blood on the carpet, 1 February–19 April, 2020

In February 2020, Charleston will present a major exhibition of new work by the celebrated Welsh artist Shani Rhys James

In February 2020, Charleston will present a major exhibition of new work by the celebrated Welsh artist Shani Rhys James; charting her painterly challenge of the cyclical and relentless passage of life in the artist’s frank, emotional and exuberant style.

‘Shani Rhys James: tea on the sofa, blood on the carpet’ (1 February – 19 April 2020) is a curated survey of the artist’s latest body of work in which she explores the transience of being; contrasting her early iconic painting of a child’s cot with startling images of the female figure ravaged by decay.

Shani Rhys James (b. 1953) is one of the UK’s most respected living painters and has been hailed as one of the greatest talents of her generation. She is the winner of countless prestigious painting prizes, including the Jerwood Prize in 2003 for a body of work including ‘The Black Cot’ (2000) and was made an MBE for services to art in 2006.

In her portraits, interiors and still lifes, Rhys James often returns to distilled childhood memories and her own mirrored image as the basis for her emotionally-charged subjects. While the artist’s earlier paintings stage the drama of the mother/daughter relationship as an often dark family tableaux, her re-cent work confronts the fragility of domestic life, ageing and the curious infantilisation we face during our first moments of life and again, in old age. On ‘Oil of Ulay 2’ (2018), Rhys James remarks:

“I wanted to capture my mother’s bewilderment at her condition. Having had a stroke she is half paralysed. There on the table are the objects for the everyday ritual of brushing the hair and preserving the skin”.

The exhibition will also include some of Rhys James’s best-known paintings, including ‘Yellow Wallpaper II’ (2012), ‘Black Chandelier’ (2012) and ‘Blue Top’ (2013) in which the artist explores themes of sexuality, domesticity and identity with her strong feminist voice. Mixing the strange with the familiar, her glassy-eyed and haunted subjects are dwarfed by riotous wallpaper, un-wieldy floral bouquets and gigantic furnishings, with seemingly ordinary, everyday objects belying a sense of threat and horror. It’s a theme Rhys James saw played out many times as a child when she watched her actor mother perform countless roles including Nora in ‘A Doll’s House’ in her native Australia and later, as part of London’s avant-garde theatrical scene.

Shani Rhys James, said:

“This exhibition is significant to me as it brings together paintings in which I have dealt with the passage of life from the child in the cot to the woman in the final cot, “vaunt in their youthful sap, at height de-crease and wear their brave state out of memory”.

“It is wonderful to show this work at Charleston, a place with which I have such empathy because their life and art and home were all part of their painting and creativity. The chairs, the bowls, the plates, the table were all aesthetically chosen and became part of their painting. Art and life were interconnected.”

Dr Darren Clarke, Head of Collections, Research and Exhibitions, The Charleston Trust, said:

“I was struck by the dark domesticity that Shani portrays in her work, the uneasy relationships between people and seemingly mundane decorative objects. They reminded me of the domestic scenes at Charleston, captured by the artists in paintings that present a public face of family life but often hide tensions and secrets. This exhibition of Shani’s work will create wonderful conversations with Charleston and its history”.

The exploration of family life and personal relationships continues with the accompanying exhibition, ‘Gifted’, which will be staged in Charleston’s Spotlight and South Galleries. All works in the exhibition have been given to Charleston in recent years via the Acceptance in Lieu scheme and as bequests and gifts, with many on public display for the first time.

Showcasing works by artists including Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry, Walter Sickert, Julia Margaret Cameron and Lettice Ramsay, there will be around 80 pieces on show from paintings, drawings and sketchbooks to prints and photographs.

Portraits of lovers, friends, children and grandchildren will be unveiled, including a portrait of Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant which has been allocated to Charleston and acquired for the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, administered by the Arts Council. This portrait comes from a particularly important period of Bell and Grant’s relationship, one that includes the beginning of their sexual relationship, their imminent move to Charleston and the setting up of a domestic and working space together.

– Ends –

Notes to Editors

Shani Rhys James: tea on the sofa, blood on the carpet
Wolfson Gallery
1 February 2020 – 19 April 2020

Spotlight and South Galleries
1 February 2019 – 19 April 2020

Wednesday – Sunday/Bank Holidays: 10am – 5pm.
Charleston, Firle, Lewes, East Sussex BN8 6LL

Tickets: from £7. Under 18s go free.

For all press enquiries please contact:

Jennifer Grindley
+44 (0) 7491303730


About Charleston
Charleston is a house, garden and art gallery situated in the spectacular South Downs National Park. From 1916 it was the home of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, who were key members of the Bloomsbury group.
Today Charleston runs a programme of exhibitions, workshops, talks and events as well as a portfolio of literary festivals which attract over 10,000 vis-itors and have welcomed speakers including Sir David Attenborough, Kamila Shamsie, Ali Smith, Grayson Perry and Jeanette Winterson.


About Shani Rhys James
Considered by many the greatest living Welsh painter, Shani Rhys James has developed over a long and distinguished career a unique and highly personal style of intense psychological power. Taking almost exclusively the female figure – frequently herself – as her subject, Rhys James has continued to ex-plore the role of women within domestic spaces.
Rhys James has exhibited continuously throughout her career and won many awards including the prestigious Jerwood Painting Prize in 2003. She was the subject of the BBC’s documentary series ‘What Do Artists Do All Day’ in 2014 and her work is featured in many major collections including the Nation-al Museum of Wales, the Arts Council of England and Columbia University in New York. A publication on her work ‘The Rivalry of Flowers’ was produced in 2013, featuring an essay by critic Edward Lucie-Smith.

About Connaught Brown
Founded in 1985, Connaught Brown, located in Mayfair, is one of Britain’s leading fine art galleries. The gallery represents a number of prominent Con-temporary artists as well as being recognised specialists in paintings and drawings by the French Impressionists, Post-Impressionists and Modern Mas-ters.
For more than 30 years, Connaught Brown has organised exciting exhibitions, many of which have been seminal in their re-evaluation of the importance of artists whose careers, or aspects of which, may not have remained in the limelight. The gallery’s exhibition programme has also addressed art histori-cal movements that have been forgotten or ignored.
Connaught Brown has worked with Shani Rhys James for over a decade, hold-ing solo exhibitions of her work including ‘This Inconstant State’ which was awarded ‘Best in Visual Arts 2018’ by the Wales Art Review.