British Bohemia. the Bloomsbury Circle of Virginia Woolf

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British Bohemia. The Bloomsbury Circle of Virginia Woolf. International Cultural Centre, Krakow, 14 September 2010-9 January 2011. Curated by Tony Bradshaw and Monika Rydiger.

British Bohemia. The Bloomsbury Circle of Virginia Woolf. Ed. Barbara Gorska (Krakow: International Cultural Centre, 2010) 185pp.

It is not surprising that British Bohemia should have been shown at the International Cultural Centre in Krakow, for Krakow has always held an important place in the development of the Polish literary and visual avant-garde. It was, for example, home of the Young Poland modernist group, the Formists, the Polish Futurists, and the Zwrotnica circle associated with the art critic and poet Tadeusz Peiper, who was editor of a little magazine called Zwrotnica (Railway Switch).

The Bloomsbury artists seem to match perfectly Krakow's artistic atmosphere which during the first decades of the twentieth century was as vibrant, innovative and creative as that of its counterparts in London. This is the first time the "Bloomsberries" have made an appearance in this part of Europe so the exhibition may be regarded as a milestone in the understanding of modern British art in Poland, where it has usually been French, Italian and German art that has attracted popular and critical attention.

The exhibition emphasized the lifestyle as well as the art and literature produced by the group. Although to some viewers it may have seemed slightly modest, the selection of objects was conditioned not only by limited gallery space, but by the decision of the curator, Tony Bradshaw, not to display work from major museum collections but to bring forward works from private collections. Bloomsbury enthusiasts saw perhaps for the first time several unseen or little-shown art works. Paintings dominated but the wide-ranging activity of the Bloomsbury artists was also demonstrated, particularly in the field of design.

The most prominent members of the group were represented in the exhibition, including the writer Virginia Woolf, the painters Duncan Grant, Dora Carrington and Vanessa Bell, and Roger Fry, who was both painter and critic. Large biographical panels hung alongside their work. Grant was represented most abundantly with landscapes showing the countryside around Charleston, the house in Sussex particularly associated with the group, as well as portraits and still-lifes. Some of the most remarkable landscapes included Grant's watercolor and pencil on paper work entitled Barns and Pond at Charleston (c. 1934) or a Cezannesque oil, Houses at Newhaven (c. 1934), both showing an increasing departure from representation. Charleston played an important role in the show, since the design of the exhibition reflected the interior of the house itself. There were enlarged life-size photographs of the interior which increased the visitors' feeling of an intimate encounter with the artists and the Bloomsbury ambience. These photographs highlighted the Bloomsberries' view that their lives formed part of their art, so that when they decorated their immediate surroundings--including Charleston's walls and furniture--it seemed both necessary and valid.

Charleston also symbolized the Bloomsbury Group's anti-war stance in 1914-1918. These artistic revolutionaries carried out an aesthetic crusade against bourgeois taste and academicism, but they were not at all rebels in the political sense; avoiding military conscription, they were instead employed on the land at farms nearby, so that staying at Charleston became a convenient option.

Grant's Dancers, from the 1930s, exemplifies his long-lasting interest in dance and ballet which began in the early 1920s, when he designed sets and costumes with Leonid Massine and Lydia Lopokova and later continued his cooperation as a set designer with the Vic-Wells Ballet and the Camargo Society. Equally impressive are two studies for the large painting Interior (Ulster Museum, Belfast); one of them, David Garnett Writing at Charleston, 1918, depicts Garnett, who resided at Charleston between 1916-1919, who "is shown translating Dostoyevsky in the dining room at Charleston" (85). …

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