Members of the Bloomsbury Group. Left to right: Lady Ottoline Morrell, Maria Nys (neither members of Bloomsbury), Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant, and Vanessa Bell.
Bloomsbury is a district in central London dominated by the University of London and the British Museum, and once the heart of the publishing world. As a cultural term, “Bloomsbury” refers to the group of artists, writers and intellectuals who lived in the area from the early twentieth century until the Second World War.
The major figures associated with this circle included the biographer Lytton Strachey, the economist John Maynard Keynes, the novelists Virginia Woolf and EM Forster, the publisher and political thinker Leonard Woolf (Virginia’s husband), and the painters Vanessa Bell (Virginia’s sister), Duncan Grant and Roger Fry. The latter, through his writings and organisation of the major Post-Impressionist exhibitions of 1910 and 1912 in London, was one of the most influential figures in British art of the twentieth century.
The members of Bloomsbury were connected by family, marriage, and in many cases student life at Cambridge University. They developed a range of ideas, attitudes and practices founded on what were at the time unconventional principles of friendship and aesthetics. These were matched by liberal politics, and a secular philosophy which rejected the dominant values of the Victorian age.
Left to right: Bertrand Russell, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey,
all members of the Cambridge Apostles.
Photo Lady Ottoline Morrell.
Much of their thinking was drawn from the writings of the Cambridge philosophers G Lowes Dickinson and GE Moore, both of whom were prominent figures in the exclusive Cambridge intellectual society, the Apostles, to which many of the Bloomsbury circle belonged.
The only surviving footage of a Bloomsbury Group writer, Lytton Strachey.
The Bloomsbury artists played a pivotal role in the introduction of modern art to Britain. Impressionism, and the subsequent developments of modern French art, had met with stiff resistance on this side of the Channel, until in the years before the First World War a vigorous avant-garde appeared in London.
A key stimulus to this was Fry’s celebrated exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists (November 1910-January 1911). It included work by Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso and caused a huge shock to the London art world. A new exhibition was held in 1912, Second Post-Impressionists Exhibition. British French and Russian Artists.
Bloomsbury art remained in the forefront until a new generation of modernists appeared in the early 1930s.
Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf in the 2002 movie The Hours by Stephen Daldry.
[Text: from “The Art of Bloomsbury”, leaflet for the 1999 exhibition, Tate Gallery, London]