Posted By Tom on June 19, 2014
The artists and writers who made up the Bloomsbury Set were icons of the avant-garde in early twentieth-century London. A new exhibition at Aidan Meller Fine Paintings shines a light on their extraordinary creativity, boasting original artworks by Duncan Grant, Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell.
In her 1928 novel Orlando, Bell’s sister Virginia Woolf writes, “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.” The idea is well suited to the group of intellectuals who gathered at Woolf’s Gordon Square home from 1904 onwards. A nest of love triangles and glittering conversation, Bloomsbury was where art and life were most exhilaratingly mingled.
It was an experiment born out of bereavement. Virginia Stephen (later Woolf) and sister Vanessa (soon to be Bell) swapped the family home in Hyde Park for Bloomsbury after the death of their parents. The sisters’ Thursday night debates soon attracted a network of leading Cambridge intellectuals, and in 1910, Woolf, artist Duncan Grant and others conned the Royal Navy into granting them a private tour of the HMS Dreadnought by impersonating Abyssinian royalty.
The stunt put Bloomsbury in the public eye. The group became associated with important figures such as T. S. Eliot and E. M. Forster, while Lytton Strachey published his wildly successful Eminent Victorians. A collection of satirical biographies, Strachey’s book was typical of Bloomsbury’s rejection of nineteenth-century culture.
Bloomsbury’s ascent also marked the rise of modern art in Britain. In 1910 and 1912, Roger Fry put on Britain’s first important Post-Impressionist exhibitions, featuring Cézanne, Matisse and others. These daring exhibitions were controversial at first, but transformed the careers of Grant and Bell.
Aidan Meller’s new Bloomsbury display is centred on drawings by Duncan Grant, originally from the collection of his lover Paul Roche. When the pair first met, Roche was a youthful-looking Catholic priest who would dress up as a sailor and use the pseudonym “Don”. Grant wooed him with a bottle of rum while they viewed a friend’s art collection, which included Picasso, Matisse, Sickert and others. They fell in love while “Don” was modelling for Grant and he eventually came clean about his real name and profession. Amorous and vivid, these drawings offer a rare insight into the intimate, liberated energy of Bloomsbury artists. Also included in the display are rare graphic works by Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell.
Written by Dr. Thomas Slingsby.
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