THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP
Many of the founding members of the Bloomsbury Group met as students at Cambridge University, but it was in Vanessa’s Bloomsbury living room that many of their ideas and relationships began to take shape. Founding members included Vanessa’s siblings, Lytton Strachey, Desmond MacCarthy, Maynard Keynes, Duncan Grant, Leonard Woolf, Roger Fry and Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell.
Clive and Vanessa had an open marriage which allowed both of them to live out one of the most important Bloomsbury tenants – Rejecting the bourgeois habits of their Victorian upbringings. This included the belief in monogamous relationships. Remarkably Vanessa’s lovers, including Duncan Grant (father to her daughter Angelica) and Roger Fry, would remain lifelong friends and companions. She and Clive also remained close, though their sexual relationship cooled after the birth of their 2 sons Julian and Quentin.
The Bloomsbury Group was highly influenced by their left-liberal political stances and a collective appreciation of post-Impressionist art which was introduced by group member and art critic Roger Fry. They also worked to blur the lines between fine and decorative arts as you can see in the interiors of Charleston. All of these things lead them to become the premier bohemian set of their time and interconnects their work in an inexorable way.
In 1916 Vanessa Bell purchased Charleston, a 16th Century farmhouse in East Sussex, at the urging of her sister Virginia Woolf. Along with her 2 young sons, Bell moved in with longtime companion Duncan Grant and his friend and lover David Garnett. The plan was partially to protect Duncan and David from conscription during World War I. Their anti-war stance required they find “work of national importance” or they would have to serve. The farm allowed them to toil on the land while maintaining their artistic lifestyles.
Charleston quickly became the country getaway of the artists, intellectuals, and writers within the Bloomsbury Group. There they could freely discuss their political views, live unconventional love lives, and squirrel away to complete their most important works. Over the years visitors included the likes of T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Vita Sackville-West, Hugh Walpole, and of course Virginia and Leonard Woolf.
Almost immediately Vanessa and Duncan started the important work of transforming the cottage from shabby farmhouse to a masterful display of color, expression, and art. By this time they had started the Omega Workshops with critic Roger Fry where they pushed the boundaries between decorative and fine arts. Their explorations in furniture design, textiles, and other household accessories can be seen in every facet of the Charleston home.