Victoria Art Gallery, Bath

A Room of Their Own: Lost Bloomsbury Interiors 1914-30

The only interiors that survive from the Bloomsbury group’s dynamic designs are those found at Charleston, the East Sussex home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. But the group was incredibly prolific, designing for Heals as well as taking commissions, and had their own workshop, Omega, which produced much of their work in a more commercial setting.

The group was convinced that art, fine art, could be decorative, and in no way was this ever  considered by them a pejorative term. The artists in the group practised what they preached- painting conventionally on canvas as well as on most objects that you may find in a home, including lights, pots and tables. And of course they painted images of the interiors they had created- art reflecting art.

A small but beautifully curated exhibition of the Bloomsbury group art works is currently on show at the Victoria Gallery- from fabric to furniture, ceramics to carpet (well rugs, I was going for the visual alliteration…) paintings and sketches, decorative wall plaques, mirrors and fireplaces – all in their painterly, glorious colour palettes, with deft mark making and a luxuriant hedonistic quality only reflecting their own Bohemian lifestyles and need for beauty to surround them.

By bringing together works in private and a variety of public collections, we can begin to appreciate the shock of the new in those interiors, how they jolted a new generation into living with art and the artistic. What a contrast to the chintzes and lace of late Victorian Britain….

As you can tell, I am rather a fan and in fact my furniture painting obsession probably dates back to when I first saw some of their work in the V&A and when I wandered around Bloomsbury as a teenager and student,  when I learned about the movement when I was studying for ‘S’ level English and when I discovered more about them through visiting some of the places they lived and worked.

I can also see the links between their work and those of the big names of the 20th century- such as Picasso and Matisse, both of whom took the everyday and created something extraordinary, and for artists such as Matisse, the decorative, the patterned, was as important as the subject. Picasso’s painting on ceramics follows a long line dating back to the late 19th century, William Morris and then early 20th century artists such as Duncan Grant. Remember, Roger Fry, a key member of the group, was the person who practically single-handedly brought impressionism to the UK through organising the first exhibition here.  Figurative paintings- caryatids, nymphs and so on,  echo Modgliani and Matisse’s erotic females.

There is no question that the Bloomsbury group did something quite special at the beginning of the 20th century for art and the arts in the UK; the group’s influence is still felt today when one examines the interior styling to be found even on the high street- the Habitat in its now limited form, Anthropologie, Liberty, even chains such as Oliver Bonas and so on. And we are not even considering the many boutique shops and designers that take their influences in a direct line from Bloomsbury style.

 

 

 

The exhibition is on until September 2016. Details on the gallery website, http://www.victoriagal.org.uk/events/room-their-own-lost-bloomsbury-interiors-1914-30

 

 

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