Art: Not an Inkling of Vision or Design ; the Art of Bloomsbury Tate Gallery, London Art Made Modern Courtauld Gallery, London Bloomsbury Portraits National Portrait Gallery, London

By Darwent, Charles | The Independent (London, England), November 7, 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Art: Not an Inkling of Vision or Design ; the Art of Bloomsbury Tate Gallery, London Art Made Modern Courtauld Gallery, London Bloomsbury Portraits National Portrait Gallery, London


Darwent, Charles, The Independent (London, England)


In 1928 Roger Fry wrote: "Had a delightful talk with Virginia about Lytton and his ideas of biography, which she doesn't really approve of, about the impossibility of knowing the least really about one's fellow creatures, even one's dearest friends". Forget Fry's books on Cezanne and Post-Impressionism, his Grafton Gallery exhibitions or thoughts on formalism. This extract from a letter tells you what you need to know about the art of Bloomsbury, currently the subject of shows at three major London galleries.

First, there is the chumminess of it all. Fry could be writing about the weather or swapping recipes for Battenburg cake, but he isn't. What he is talking about is something that lies at the heart of the Bloomsbury aesthetic, namely the cult of personality. Not for nothing was the Bloomsbury Group's defining text dear old Lytton's Eminent Victorians. Strachey's attempt to revolutionise biography by making it irreverent and bite-sized was new, but it was also solidly Victorian in its assumption that personalities mattered. Virginia may have disagreed with his methods, but she would have been behind him on that one. Above all, the personalities that counted as far as the inhabitants of Gordon Square and Charleston were concerned were their own: what Virginia had to say about Lytton, whether Duncan was sleeping with Vanessa or Maynard, and whether Roger and Clive knew or cared.

Something in Fry's letter suggests a paradox in all of this, though. The more incestuous (occasionally literally) the Bloomsburys become, the less there is any sense of intimacy in their work. Walk through the Tate's massive show "The Art of Bloomsbury" and you will see endless evidence of the physical companionship of the three main characters, Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. What you will also sense, though, is a curious lack of engagement in their pictures, not simply on a human level but on a painterly one.

This is especially true of Grant, whose flirtings with European modernism were the most promiscuous of the three. While Fry and Clive Bell philosophised about "significant form" - roughly, the idea that shape and colour in painting had a value separate from their representational function, a line of reasoning that headed towards abstraction - Grant was busy toying with everything from pointillism to Picasso. And toying is the word. The thoughtless grafting of Cezannesque brushwork on to Georgian form in works like Pamela (1911) will make the thin-skinned cringe; not nearly as much, though, as Grant's appalling Head of Eve (1912) in the Courtauld's show, as cack-handed a take on Cubism as you could never wish to see.

Somewhere in all of this, you may find yourself coming to think of the Bloomsbury Group's groupiness as being less the stuff of Merchant Ivory films than as either irritating or destructive. Although it is now unfashionable to analyse art in terms of biography, the self-obsessed dynamic of the Group's painters makes it inevitable that we should.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Art: Not an Inkling of Vision or Design ; the Art of Bloomsbury Tate Gallery, London Art Made Modern Courtauld Gallery, London Bloomsbury Portraits National Portrait Gallery, London
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?