Bloomsbury Group

Posted in Events, Writers at 9:32 am by Marion

Study for the portrait of Leonard Woolfe by Vanessa Bell Image courtesy of the Victoria University Library Collection, Toronto.

Imagine that you didn’t worry about what society expected of you, that you were willing to put your faith in the invisible workings of the universe to take care of you, and decided to use your intelligence and creative energy in ways that made the world more beautiful, more comfortable and more meaningful.

That’s what a group of artists and writers did in London shortly after the turn of the century. Today we call them the Bloomsbury Group, but for them, they were just living with meaning. An exhibit of the Bloomsbury Artists is on view at the Nasher Museum of Art on the Duke University campus in Durham.

They weren’t setting out for fame, riches or a place in the art history books; rather, they were living as honestly as they could, experimenting with colors, fabrics and canvas; or with words.


They include some familiar names: Notably, Virginia Woolfe, whose “A Room of One’s Own” suggested that for the first time, women, as well as men, were valuable contributors to art and letters, and that writing, for some, was as essential as breathing. But, women, who were in those days confined to the role of servant, deserved their own privacy, space — and dignity. What a concept!

Joining Mrs. Woolfe were her husband, Leonard, who helped run the printing press in their home, Hogarth, which published works including T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.”

In addition, there was Mrs. Woolfe’s sister, Vanessa, a remarkable designer and artist whose paintings, fabrics and furniture designs show an ongoing explosion of creativity. She reminds me of another remarkable textile and visual artist, Sonia Delaunay, who was working in Paris about the same time.

Joining them were Duncan Grant, Clive Bell and Lytton Strachey, author of “Eminent Victorians,” and beloved by Dora Carrington, also an artist.

They left London after World War I to live on a farm, Charleston. They held open houses, and established “The Omega Workshop,” which was dedicated to artful everyday objects. (This was different from John Ruskin’s Arts and Crafts movement, which appreciated craftwork with a different sensibility.)

What touched me about these artists was the authentic pursuit of art without pretense or other motive than to create. So often we make “art” something unreachable … when it should be as natural as taking a breath, or walking across a room. It shouldn’t be removed from everyday living; rather, it should be the sheen on everyday actions.

The Bloomsbury Artists exhibit will be on view at the Nasher Museum through April 5. Highly worth visiting … if only to remind us of our higher humanity.

1 Comment

  1. Gene-o said,

    January 13, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Boy, imagine living in a society where the arts are a true priority, where many people (not just a select lucky few) make a living as painters, sculptors, creative writers, lithographers, etc. That was one of the great advantages that the Bloomsbury members enjoyed, and we’ve lost it, to a large degree, in contemporary Western culture since the 1940s.