Tuesday 6th March 2018:
Frank Woodgate, a lecturer and guide at the Tate Modern and Tate Britain gave a lecture of eloquence and wit on The Art and Scandalous Lives of the Bloomsbury Group.
They were a group of intellectuals who came from privileged backgrounds and were artists and writers. Roger Fry, Vanessa Stephen and Duncan Grant were seen as the centre of the group in terms of artists. Vanessa met the artist and art critic Clive Bell in Paris. They married in 1907 and set up home in Charleston in Sussex in 1916. The house became the main centre where the group gathered. They were joined by the political theorist Leonard Woolf and writer Lytton Strachey who had been colleagues at Trinity College Cambridge.
Vanessa’s younger sister Virginia was married to Leonard Woolf. She was a fragile person given to bouts of depression. They had no children and despite the loving support given to her by her husband, she committed suicide by drowning in 1941.
Duncan Grant studied art in Paris and associated with avant-garde artists there. He painted conventional paintings depicting scenes of everyday life such as ‘The Kitchen’. The first Impressionist exhibition had been staged in 1874. In 1910, fellow artist Roger Fry, together with Clive Bell, was responsible for the so-called ‘Art Quake’ which shocked London and pushed the boundaries. However, it came to be considered as the most important contribution of the group to the visual arts in Britain. An exhibition was mounted at the Grafton Galleries featuring ‘ The Bar at the Folies Bergere’ by Manet and works by other Impressionists. Manet was considered a controversial artist because of his paintings ‘Olympia’ and ‘Dejeuner sur l’Herbe’ which had caused a furore in Paris.
In the same year, some members of the group staged one of the most famous practical jokes in military history. Known as ‘The Dreadnaught Hoax’, they dressed up as Abyssinian princes and gained access to the pride of the British Naval Fleet, where they were lavishly entertained by the unsuspecting crew!
Their art was to alter over the years as they were influenced by artists such as Matisse, Van Gogh, Seurat, Cezanne and Picasso. They occasionally experimented with abstract and cubism. They created the Omega Workshop where usable articles such as furniture and rugs could be bought.
Lastly, their art cannot be separated from their astonishing lives of multifaceted and complex relationships. It was said that they lived in squares, moved in circles and loved in triangles. Virginia Woolf had an affair with the wealthy writer and socialite Vita Sackville West, Clive Bell had numerous affairs. Duncan Grant was the youngest in the group and was loved by everybody! He had an on-going relationship with his homosexual friend Lytton Stracey and an affair with Vanessa Bell by whom he had a daughter, Angelica. She grew up believing Clive Bell to be her father only to be devastated when she found out that it was Grant. She married David Garnett, a writer and publisher, who had been her father’s lover at the time she was born, and they had four daughters. Dora Carrington, a British painter had a menage a trois with Lytton Strachey and Ralph Partridge. She committed suicide at the age of thirty-nine seven weeks after the death of Lytton Strachey.