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The Bloomsbury Artists

The Bloomsbury Artists Collage

Started: 1909

Ended: 1940

"It is lucky perhaps that Bloomsbury has a pleasant reverberating sound, suggesting old fashioned gardens and out of the way walks, and squares; otherwise how could one bear it? If every review, every talk on the radio, every biography, every memoir of the last fifty years, were to talk instead incessantly of Hoxton or Brixton, surely one's nerves would be unbearably frayed."

Vanessa Bell Signature

Summary of The Bloomsbury Artists

The Bloomsbury artists were a group of innovative British artists, designers, and art critics who breathed fresh life into the UK's stuffy art scene in the first half of the 20th century. The group's members contributed significantly to 20th-century British art and design by working on a huge range of individual and collaborative projects, from cushion covers and candlesticks to abstract paintings and multiple murals. They are also credited with introducing important European artists such as Picasso and Cézanne to a UK audience.

The Bloomsbury artists as we refer to them here were the original, artistic arm of the Bloomsbury Group, a broader set of London-based creatives and intellectuals that included novelists Virginia Woolf and E. M Forster, economist John Maynard Keynes and writer Lytton Strachey among its most prominent members. Whether through painting, novel writing or philosophy, all members of 'old Bloomsbury' shared a passion for social progress, creative innovation and a desire to leave behind the restrictive atmosphere of the Victorian era.

Key Ideas

The group's artistic output was highly influenced by art critic and fellow Bloomsbury member Clive Bell's theory of 'significant form'. Bell believed that forms and relations of forms within an artwork combine to "stir our aesthetic emotions", even when entirely isolated from a discernible reality.
Unsurprisingly for a group whose personal lives were so infamously intertwined, the three principal Bloomsbury artists - Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and Roger Fry - often worked in remarkably close proximity to each other. They regularly painted the same subjects at the same time (mainly interiors, scenes from their joint travels to Europe, still lifes, and portraits of other group members) though their styles remained reasonably distinctive.
The Bloomsbury artists were strongly influenced by and responsive to the European movements of their day, especially Post-Impressionism (a term coined by Roger Fry) and Cubism. Their previously conservative artistic styles changed dramatically after they viewed works by Picasso, Matisse, and Cézanne during a 1909 visit to Paris. The group is now widely recognized as important British 'champions of modernity' for being the first to include these controversial European artists in London exhibitions, much to the shock of UK gallery goers.
Collaboration and cross-promotion were fundamental to the Bloomsbury ethos. As well as working with each other on murals, interiors, stage designs, and costumes, the group's visual artists produced book jacket covers and illustrations to accompany publications by Bloomsbury writers and their modernist associates, including works by Virginia Woolf, T.S Eliot, and some of the first English translations of Sigmund Freud.
The entire Bloomsbury group's attitudes toward gender roles and sexuality were extraordinarily progressive, especially by the standards of their day in Britain. These attitudes often translated to the group's artistic output - they produced some of the earliest works to now be considered essential to the Queer art canon, for example. Virginia Woolf's seminal essays, such as A Room of One's Own, also had a vital impact on the development of feminism (including Feminist art) in the 20th century and beyond.
The Bloomsbury Artists Image


When upper-middle-class man of letters, Leslie Stephen, died in 1904, his daughters Vanessa (later Bell) and Virginia (later Woolf) - an aspiring painter and novelist respectively - decided to move out of their family home. With a strong desire to leave behind their uptight Victorian upbringing and live a freer, more 'Bohemian' lifestyle, they and their two brothers, Thoby and Adrian, set up residence at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury, then regarded as a rather downscale area of London.

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