BLOOMSBURY Its Artists, Authors and Designers Edited by Gillian Naylor Bulfinch/Little, Brown. 328 pp. $55
THIS large-dimensioned book contains 311 color plates of Bloomsbury art accompanied by relevant texts selected from Bloomsbury authors. The plates open private worlds of space, light, form and design in exuberant as well as subtle color and show mainly the works of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf, and of the art historian-painter, Roger Fry. The selected passages of text are taken from memoirs, essays, letters and other writings. In effect, Bloomsbury celebrates Bloomsbury in the visual and verbal, picture and text. Gillian Naylor, the authoritative editor, has made available the largest gathering-in of pictures and decorations of Bloomsbury we have yet had, assembed from museums and private collections and from houses and apartments which painters decorated. It is especially striking to have them all in color; most publication hitherto has been in black and white.
In their prime, the artists in the gifted group of friends who first lived in London's Bloomsbury (as so many of New York's talents once lived in Greenwich Village) began to paint out of their daily lives. In 1916 Duncan and Vanessa moved into Charleston, a large, roomy farmhouse in Sussex. They painted every day for the next 50 years. Their accumulated canvases offer the equivalent of what Virginia Woolf called "moments of being." The artists were like diarists or journal keepers. They painted people, houses, rooms, surrounding landscapes, tables at which they ate, the studio in which they worked, the tubs in which they bathed, the beds they slept in and hundreds of common household objects. They decorated the walls and furniture with an easy informality. One can say that the Bloomsbury artists painted autobiographically. They recreated their domestic world while the other Bloomsbury figures like Maynard Keynes, Leonard Woolf and Lytton Strachey sought to change existing worlds of economics, politics and history.
During their London lives they had espoused the Post-Impressionists, among them Van Gogh, Matisse, Cezanne and Picasso. One can see, in these assembled plates, how the Bloomsbury painters were influenced and how they anglicized and individualized this influence. It became a liberation into spontaneity and impressionism, a burst of new energy that challenged the old and stuffy Victorian portraiture and decoration in which they had been reared.
This book takes us through all the phases of Bloomsbury, from early flounderings to the Omega Workshops, the founding of the Hogarth Press, Virginia's fictions and Clive Bell's and Fry's art criticism, and the final mix of worldliness and unworldliness that has fascinated the new generations.
Charleston Manor has been cleansed of the cobwebs and mildew I saw when I visited it for the writing of my book on Bloomsbury. It has become a showplace. It is perhaps the most transfigured farm house in the Western world. Leon Edel is the author of many works, including "Bloomsbury: A House of Lions" and "Henry James: A Life."