An early twentieth-century group of artists and writers named after the Bloomsbury area of London where many members lived. Members included Virginia Woolf, Clive and Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. The group did much to promote Post-Impressionist art in Britain.
Origins of the Group: A Family Gathering
From the outset the Bloomsbury Group was founded on close, familial ties. The four children of an upper class gentleman Leslie Stephen, Vanessa (Bell), Virginia (Woolf) and their brothers Thoby and Adrian moved out of the family home in 1904 to a rundown property in Gordon Square in the once shabby Bloomsbury area of London. Their home became a regular hangout for their wide circle of intellectual and artistic friends, who began to call themselves “the bloomsberries”.
After a visit to Paris in 1906, several the group’s artist members changed from a somewhat conservative style to a progressive, forward looking approach as influenced by Picasso, Matisse and Cézanne. Art critic and artist Roger Fry was actively involved with the group and a keen follower of French painting. In 1910 he organised the controversial exhibition Manet and the Post Impressionists, bringing the ideas of Seurat, Manet, Cézanne and van Gogh to the United Kingdom.
Despite ardent criticism, Fry was undeterred and went on to organise the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition in 1912, this time including works by Bloomsbury members such as Vanessa Bell, Wyndham Lewis, and his own work alongside French Post-Impressionist and Cubist masterpieces. The British group referred to themselves as ‘Bloomsberry’ in the exhibition. Together they rejected the historical sentimentality of the Victorian era, celebrating the rise of modernity in vivid colours and experimental, expressive and abstract languages.
Who were they?
As the Bloomsbury Group gathered in size they became a large, informal association of family, friends and partners, mostly artists and writers, including Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Clive Bell, Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant and John Maynard Keynes. Together they explored writing, poetry and the fine and applied arts with an emphasis on the most progressive, forward thinking ideas of the time.
Collaboration and the sharing of ideas was a hugely important aspect of their community spirit. Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry often painted closely together, even painting the same subjects at the same time and artists would frequently design book covers for their writer friends. They also took a liberal attitude towards sexuality, leading to a complex myriad of adulterous relationships.
The Friday Club
The Bloomsbury Group divided themselves into two camps: writers and artists. Each separate group would hold regular meetings to discuss and share ideas about work, projects and group exhibitions. The artist group called themselves The Friday Club, founded by Vanessa Bell in 1905, who hosted gatherings in Charlston farmhouse, her home in the Sussex countryside. Members were diverse and included John Nash, Henry Lamb, Edward Wadsworth and Roger Fry. Bell explained why meet-ups were better to happen at her house, creating an avid picture of the atmosphere in the group:
'We can get to the point of calling eachother prigs and adulterers quite happily when the company is small and select, but its’ rather a question whether we could do it with a large number of people who might not feel that they were quite on neutral ground'.
In 1913 Fry founded a new group called The Grafton Group, which attracted many Friday Club members. Fry’s aim with the group was to encourage the development of Post-Impressionist ideas in the UK, organising regular exhibitions alongside the work of other European artists.
The Omega Workshops
In 1913 Fry founded the Omega Workshops with Bell and Duncan Grant working alongside him, at 33 Fitzroy Square in Bloomsbury. The site was home to a series of workshop spaces where artists could design and make furniture, fabrics and art objects, with the aim of breaking down barriers between fine and applied arts. The space also had a series of showrooms where the public could buy Omega designs. Fry insisted on strict anonymity by members, who all had to sign their work produced on site with the same unique symbol, the Greek letter Omega. The workshop was eventually closed in 1919 after suffering financial struggles.
The Bloomsbury Group were the first to explore purely abstract paintings in Britain, making them the most forward-thinking artists of their day. Their collective attitude towards artistic production also supported young up and coming artists of the next generation, with a number going on to form The Euston Road School in the 1930s.