The Bloomsbury Group, otherwise known as the Bloomsbury Set, united many English writers, artists, and philosophers during the early 20th century. The group was associated with King’s College London and the University of Cambridge. Its members lived and worked together after initially meeting during their studies. The group’s main commonalities included believing in the importance of art and sharing modern views on feminism, relationships, sexuality, and philosophy. There were ten core members of the Bloomsbury group: Vanessa Bell, Clive Bell, Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry, E.M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, Sir Desmond MacCarthy, and Duncan Grant. Read on to learn more about the main members of the Bloomsbury group and its history.
Vanessa Bell (1879-1961)
Vanessa Bell (née Stephen; 1879-1961) was an English post-impressionist painter and a key player in the Bloomsbury group’s inception. She was the older sister of the famous novelist Virginia Woolf who was also a member of the group. Bell attended the Royal Academy in 1901 to study painting. In 1905, Vanessa began a social club called the Friday club which consisted of many artists, writers, and intellectuals who would later form the Bloomsbury group. In 1907, she met her husband Clive Bell with whom she had an open marriage. She also had relationships with fellow Bloomsbury members Roger Fry and Duncan Grant. She owned a house in the Sussex countryside called the Charleston farmhouse where many members of the group worked and lived a freewheeling artistic lifestyle.
The Memoir Club (1943) is Bell’s work depicting many members of the Bloomsbury group including Duncan Grant, Leonard Woolf, herself, Clive Bell, John Maynard Keynes, Sir Desmond MacCarthy, and E.M. Forster. This stunning depiction of the group’s dynamic also includes real-life portraits painted by Duncan Grant and herself. Bell’s great artistic talent is displayed in this work here and it provides a good idea of how close this group of English intellectuals really was.
Clive Bell (1881-1964)
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Arthur Clive Heward Bell (1881-1964) was an art critic, the husband of Vanessa Bell, and another core member of the Bloomsbury group. He studied history at Trinity College, Cambridge, and moved to Paris for a while in 1902 to study on a prestigious scholarship. While in Paris, he became deeply interested in art. After his tumultuous marriage to Vanessa ended informally, he had relationships with many other women, including short story writer Mary Hutchinson who was an outer member of the Bloomsbury group.
During his career as an art critic, he came up with an art theory called significant form. The significant form established criteria for what could be referred to as a work of art, stating that a piece of art must possess the potential to make its viewer feel aesthetic emotion. Much of this theory was developed after Bell met and conversed with artist and Bloomsbury core member Roger Fry, who painted a portrait of her in 1924.
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
Virginia Woolf (née Stephens; 1882-1941) was an English writer who is now considered one of the most important influences on twentieth-century modernism. She was also the younger sister of Vanessa Bell, who painted her portrait in 1912. She attended King’s College London, like many of the women in the Bloomsbury group, and even hosted the Thursday evenings discussion group of the early Bloomsbury members. Her publishing house called the Hogarth Press was a place where Bloomsbury writers, philosophers, and critics could publish their works. Woolf wrote many iconic novels during her lifetime, including Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and Orlando (1927). She was married to fellow Bloomsbury member Leonard Woolf. Sadly, she suffered from depression and mental illness throughout her life. She committed suicide in 1941 by drowning herself in a river in Lewes, England.
Leonard Woolf (1880-1969)
Leonard Sidney Woolf (1880-1969) was a British author, publisher, political theorist, and civil servant who was married to novelist Virginia Woolf. He was also a core member of the Bloomsbury group, having been educated at Trinity College, Cambridge where he met Lytton Strachey and Clive Bell. He and fellow member Roger Fry were good friends. Woolf was an avid publisher of the Bloomsbury group’s work and modernist novels through his and his wife’s publishing house. He can be seen at work in the 1940 painting Leonard Sidney Woolf by Vanessa Bell.
John Maynard Keynes, Baron Keynes (1883-1946)
John Maynard Keynes, 1st Baron Keynes (1883-1946) was an English economist who played a key role in changing the theory of macroeconomics and the practice and policies of governments in the twentieth century. Keynes was educated at King’s College, Cambridge, the same school as many of the men in the Bloomsbury group. He found support and acceptance for his bisexuality within the group. He advocated the use of government funds to stimulate spending and reduce unemployment, even if doing so would require running a deficit. He also fiercely supported the arts and possessed philosophical and spiritual views that were quite modern for the time.
Roger Fry (1866-1934)
Roger Fry (1866-1934) was an English painter and art critic. He attended King’s College, Cambridge, and established himself as an expert on the old masters. As an art critic, he advocated for the recent developments he’d seen in French painting and coined the term Post-Impressionism. Together with fellow Bloomsbury members Clive Bell and Sir Desmond MacCarthy, Fry organized an exhibition in 1910 titled Manet and the Post-Impressionists, which ended up sparking the modernist era. Fry was greatly influential both within the Bloomsbury circles and in the wider world of art.
E.M. Forster (1879-1970)
Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970) was an English author and Bloomsbury member who wrote important novels such as A Room with a View (1908), Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924). He was educated at King’s College, Cambridge, where he became close with Lytton Strachey and Leonard Woolf and joined a discussion society called The Apostles. He was an active member of the Bloomsbury group and even based two characters in Howards End on Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. He can be seen in Roger Fry’s 1911 painting Portrait of E.M. Forster.
Lytton Strachey (1880-1932)
Giles Lytton Strachey (1880-1932) was an English writer, critic, and founding member of the Bloomsbury group. He became involved in the social circles that would become the Bloomsbury group during his time at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was a trailblazer for a new type of biography which can be noticed in his 1918 book Eminent Victorians. Strachey was homosexual, which he frequently discussed with his open-minded friends and peers in the Bloomsbury group. Though most of his relationships were with men, he was a life partner to painter and friend of the Bloomsbury group Dora Carrington. Both Strachey and Carrington struggled with their sexualities and found great domestic comfort in one another, as is shown in Carrington’s 1916 painting Lytton Strachey.
Sir Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952)
Sir Charles Otto Desmond MacCarthy (1977-1952) was a British writer and prominent member of the Bloomsbury group. After spending his childhood in Devon and attending school at Eton College, MacCarthy was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was also a member of the Cambridge Apostles. MacCarthy was one of the most prominent literary critics of his day, and he enjoyed many social and professional connections through other members of the Bloomsbury group. MacCarthy is known for assisting Roger Fry in organizing the 1910 Manet and the Post-Impressionists exhibition, which had a lasting impact on modernism in art.
Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
When Duncan Grant (1885-1978) attended his first meeting of the Friday club in 1905 with his cousin Pippa Strachey, he had no idea that the connections he was about to make would be lifelong. Originally born in Scotland, Grant was an artist and designer known for his textiles, pottery, and theater costumes. He co-directed the Omega Workshops with Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell, focusing on exhibitions dedicated to uniting the fine and decorative arts. The modern and freewheeling attitudes of the Bloomsbury group were welcoming to Grant, who was a gay man at a time when homosexuality was not widely accepted. In his 1925 Self-Portrait, one can see a skillful depiction of a timid man.