The Bloomsbury Group – and its painterly, hodgepodge aesthetic – is making a comeback
At the start of the 20th century in London, a circle of painters, writers and thinkers gathered in the West End district, known for its garden squares, called Bloomsbury. It is here that the somewhat incestuous and bohemian group – writer Virginia Woolf, painters Vanessa Bell (Woolf’s sister) and Duncan Grant, critic Roger Fry (who, with Grant, had an affair with Bell) and intellectuals such as the economist John Maynard Keynes and the art critic Clive Bell (Vanessa’s husband) – engaged in an interdisciplinary exchange of ideas that embraced the then radical concepts about modern art, the economics, philosophy and sexuality. (As the famous poet Dorothy Parker said, they “lived in squares and loved in triangles.”)
The backdrop to it all? Unforgettable and delightfully cluttered interiors characterized by wild mixes of color and pattern, fiery ceramics and decorative paintings on almost every surface – lampshades, fireplaces, doors and even bathtubs. The pinnacle of Bloomsbury panache can be seen in Charleston, at Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s country clubhouse in Sussex, England (as seen in AD in March 1981).
The Bloomsbury Band isn’t a particularly new source of inspiration — take, for example, music consultant Andrea Anson’s lovely Manhattan guest bedroom, which has been redecorated in the image of a Charleston living room. But lately, as young designers indulge in their more decorative side – and cross-disciplinary collaboration has become something of a cultural currency – the Bloomsbury look, and the irreverent chic it represents, is making a comeback.
Fendi Creative Director Kim Jones has been harnessing the movement since an eye-opening trip to the Charleston farm when he was 14 years old. Today, in his 18th-century home in Sussex, Jones has created his own kind of Charleston, keyed to Bloomsbury Group credentials. There is a 1912 desk painted by Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry in the office and a reproduction of a 1913 folding screen by Bell in the dining room. Unsurprisingly, the inspiration also found its way into his work for Fendi, where his Spring 2021 couture collection paid homage to the movement, and a just-released Rizzoli book is titled The Fendi Set: From Bloomsbury to Borghese. (The volume, which retails for $135, features photographs by Nikolai von Bismarck and text by Jones, Jerry Stafford and Dr. Mark Hussey.)