The Bloomsbury Group in Cambridge

bloomsbury-groupWho formed the Bloomsbury Group?

The Bloomsbury Group is the name that was given to the collective of writers, artists and philosophers who frequented the Bloomsbury area of London during the period of 1907 to 1930. This group of friends and relatives was initially introduced during their time at Cambridge King’s and Trinity Colleges; many of the men being members of the “Apostles“, a semi-secret society at Cambridge, founded for the discussion of “serious questions“.

It was at Trinity College that future art critic Clive Bell became good friends with Thoby Stephen. He in turn would introduce his sisters Vanessa and Virginia to the men of the Bloomsbury Group. Vanessa would go onto becoming a successful painter and interior designer and marry Clive Bell. Virginia would as for her marry the writer Leonard Woolf and become the highly regarded novelist and critic we know today.

In addition to the Bells and the Woolfs, the group included the novelist E.M. Forster, author of A Room with a View, the biographer Lytton Strachey and the economist John Maynard Keynes. Philosopher Bertrand Russell, Brave New World’s writer Aldous Huxley, and fellow writer T.S. Eliot were also associated with the group.

What were the main topics covered?

The Bloomsbury Group was not completely in agreement on all subjects explored during their meetings, but these disagreements formed some of their most interesting ideas and writings. Nevertheless, the group remained united by the influence of philosopher G.E. Moore, who wrote that the key to life was love, the creation and enjoyment of aesthetic experience and the pursuit of knowledge.

As such, they withdrew from the social conventions of Victorian life. They believed in a freedom of mind, as well as in freedom of sexuality. That’s notably why most of the members were homosexuals or bisexuals and many had love affairs with other members of the Bloomsbury Group, like for instance Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West.

The entire group believed in pleasure: they wanted to get a maximum of pleasure from their relationships with others. But the group also maintained a focus on personal relationships rather than public image.

Finally, they were convinced about the nature of consciousness and its relation to external nature. Love, human and non-human nature, death, ideal goods of truth and beauty were many more subjects they loved to cover and deal with.

The influence of the group on society

Many of the members of the Bloomsbury circle were important thinkers and innovators, and their achievements and influence should not be dismissed.
Although the art of Bloomsbury may today look rather traditional, the influence and contribution of the group to British art was considerable. Roger Eliot Fry, Clive Bell, and Duncan Grant were amongst the first in Britain to make purely abstract paintings. Grant’s Abstract Kinetic Collage you can see below was extremely radical and ambitious pioneering work in European abstraction.

Nonetheless, perhaps the Bloomsbury Group’s most important contribution has been its nurturing of environments and organizations that provided focus and support for young artists. Indeed, the group played a central role in the development of art during the early twentieth century.

As examples, the Friday Club and Grafton Group offered a forum for young artists to enable them to meet, share ideas and exhibit their work. The London Artists Association which was founded as a result of the inspiration and hard work of Bloomsbury members, particularly John Maynard Keynes, provided artists with a means of selling their work.

In brief, the Bloomsbury Group has had influence on a series of different topics, such as religion, politics, social issues (like Virginia Woolf in the feminism movement) and economy (J.M. Keynes above all), non-abstract art, literature (modernist fiction and critiques) and sexuality.

(By Caroline Chuchla, Philippine Heraud and Mona L’Heureux)

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