Bloomsbury is the name commonly used to identify a circle of intellectuals and artists who lived in Bloomsbury, near central London, in the period 1904–40

Vanessa Bell, 'Studland Beach. Verso: Group of Male Nudes by Duncan Grant' circa 1912
Vanessa Bell
Studland Beach. Verso: Group of Male Nudes by Duncan Grant circa 1912
Oil on canvas
support: 762 x 1016 mm
frame: 898 x 1153 x 87 mm
Purchased 1976© The estate of Vanessa Bell

Introduction

In 1905 a group of writers and intellectuals began to meet at the London home of the artist Vanessa Bell and her writer sister Virginia Woolf to share ideas and support each other’s creative activities…their meetings continued for the next three decades. They were in revolt against everything Victorian and played a key role in introducing many modern ideas into Britain.

The principal artists of the group were Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry, who was also a highly influential critic, and Duncan Grant. The intellectuals included the biographer Lytton Strachey, the economist Maynard Keynes, the novelist Virginia Woolf and the art critic Clive Bell.

Members of the Bloomsbury Group in the garden at Charleston Farmhouse

Although those associated with Bloomsbury resisted being categorised as a group, they became known as the Bloomsbury Group. The name ‘Bloomsbury’ was first attached to the group in 1912 when Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and other young artist associates, exhibited work at the Post-Impressionist Exhibition organised by Roger Fry. Bloomsbury refers to the area in which they lived and worked – a district of garden squares surrounded by elegant town houses in central London.

With the deaths of key members in the 1930s and 1940s, the group lost its cohesion, although individual members remained friends and continued their creative careers.

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  • Duncan Grant, 'Bathing' 1911
    Duncan Grant
    Bathing 1911
    Oil on canvas
    support: 2286 x 3061 mm
    Purchased 1931© Tate
  • Roger Fry, 'River with Poplars' circa 1912
    Roger Fry
    River with Poplars circa 1912
    Oil on wood
    support: 565 x 708 mm
    Presented by Mrs Pamela Diamand, the artist's daughter 1973
  • Mark Gertler, 'Merry-Go-Round' 1916
    Mark Gertler
    Merry-Go-Round 1916
    Oil on canvas
    frame: 2100 x 1620 x 75 mm
    support: 1892 x 1422 mm
    Purchased 1984
  • Vanessa Bell, 'Mrs St John Hutchinson' 1915
    Vanessa Bell
    Mrs St John Hutchinson 1915
    Oil on board
    support: 737 x 578 mm
    frame: 800 x 642 x 55 mm
    Purchased 1973© The estate of Vanessa Bell
  • Vanessa Bell, 'Frederick and Jessie Etchells Painting' 1912
    Vanessa Bell
    Frederick and Jessie Etchells Painting 1912
    Oil on wood
    support: 511 x 530 mm
    frame: 653 x 678 x 79 mm
    Purchased 1971© The estate of Vanessa Bell
  • Vanessa Bell, 'Still Life on Corner of a Mantelpiece' 1914
    Vanessa Bell
    Still Life on Corner of a Mantelpiece 1914
    Oil on canvas
    support: 559 x 457 mm
    frame: 614 x 512 x 49 mm
    Purchased 1969© The estate of Vanessa Bell
  • Duncan Grant, 'The Tub' circa 1913
    Duncan Grant
    The Tub circa 1913
    Watercolour and wax on paper laid on canvas
    support: 762 x 559 mm
    Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1965© The estate of Duncan Grant
  • Duncan Grant, 'Interior at Gordon Square' circa 1915
    Duncan Grant
    Interior at Gordon Square circa 1915
    Oil on wood
    support: 400 x 321 mm
    frame: 450 x 370 x 50 mm
    Purchased 1969© The estate of Duncan Grant
  • Roger Fry, 'Still Life with T'ang Horse' circa 1919-21
    Roger Fry
    Still Life with T'ang Horse circa 1919-21
    Oil on canvas
    support: 356 x 457 mm
    frame: 542 x 440 x 50 mm
    Presented by Mrs Pamela Diamand, the artist's daughter 1973

Further reading

Duncan Grant: Bathing Work of the Week, 12 April 2010
Discover Duncan Grant’s painting Bathers, created as a mural for Borough Polytechnic is South London, in this blog.

In context: The Bloomsbury legacy

Writer Dorothy Parker famously said of the Bloomsbury Group that they ‘lived in squares…and loved in triangles’. They have been criticised as an elitist hangover from the bohemianism of the nineteenth century, and their backgrounds and unconventional lifestyle have often overshadowed their artistic achievements. However, despite the criticisms leveled at them, many of the members of the Bloomsbury circle were important thinkers and innovators and they made a significant contribution to the development of modern art, design and literature.

Art, art theory and design

Vanessa Bell, 'Abstract Painting' circa 1914
Vanessa Bell
Abstract Painting circa 1914
Oil on canvas
support: 441 x 387 mm
frame: 520 x 468 x 54 mm
Purchased 1974© The estate of Vanessa Bell

In 1910 Roger Fry organised the hugely important exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists, which brought modern French art to London and to the attention of the British public. Visitors to the show were duly scandalised by the many works by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, but the avant-garde experiments of these European artists were embraced by the Bloomsbury painters. They created their own distinctive brand of post-impressionism, and in around 1914 were among the first artists in Britain to produce abstract art.

The art writing of Clive Bell and Roger Fry was also extremely influential in the development of modernist art theory. Clive Bell’s Art published in 1914 outlined his theory of significant form which promoted abstract art; and Vision and Design, a collection of essays by Roger Fry, published in 1920, sealed Fry’s reputation as Britain’s leading art critic.

Roger Fry also founded the design firm Omega Workshops, with the radical aim of breaking down the separation between fine art and design. Bloomsbury artists designed pottery, furniture, fabrics and interiors for Omega. Although the enterprise was short-lived – it lasted for six years – designs produced by Omega were important to the development of design in the twentieth century.

Exhibition Catalogue 'Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition', Grafton Galleries, London
Exhibition Catalogue 'Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition', Grafton Galleries, London
Rug designs for Omega by Duncan Grant published in 'Vogue'
Rug designs for Omega by Duncan Grant published in 'Vogue'

Wrters and thinkers

The legacy of the literary members of the group was also significant. Virginia Woolf’s experimental stream-of-consciousness novels were at the forefront of modern writing, and she is considered by many to be one of the greatest British writers. Bloomsbury also promoted important modern writers. The books published by the Hogarth Press – set up by Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard in the kitchen of their home – include works by T.S. Eliot and E.M.Forster.

The economist Maynard Keynes, another close member of the Bloomsbury circle, was one of the most influential economists in history. His theory of macroeconomics has affected the economic policies of many governments.

In focus: Bloomsbury in the Tate Archive

Duncan Grant's scrapbook
A page from Duncan Grant's scrapbook

These blogs and articles frocus on items in Tate Archive’s rich Bloomsbury collections to provide a fascinating peek at the lives of the Bloomsbury artists and their family and freinds.

My dearest Clive…
Discover the moving correspondence between Vanessa Stephen (Bell) and her husband-to-be Clive, in this Tate Etc. article.

Tate Archive 40 | 1990 Vanessa Bell ‘Stick it in your Family Album’
Vanessa Bell’s photograph albums are pored over for this Tate Archive blog.

Tate Archive 40 | 2007 Duncan Grant ‘Wayside Wayfarers’
Find out about Duncan Grant’s background with this blog which leafs through the Grant family scrapbook.

Tate Archive 40 | 1979 Dora Carrington ‘Cry Baby’
This blog unearths a charming cartoon from Tate’s archive: drawn when Dora Carrinmgton was just sixteen it portrays perfectly the sense of humour and wit that she was famous for among her Bloomsbury friends.

Bloomsbury in detail

Bloomsbury resource
Using material from Tate’s archive collection, this in-depth resource explores the lives, creativity, achievements and important legacy of the artists, writers and intellectuals associated with the Bloomsbury circle

Related glossary terms

Omega Workshops, post-impressionism, modernism, significant form