“I love the people. I married into the people.” Reputed to have been said by Ottoline Morrell in a political speech.
Though Lady Ottoline has been ridiculed by various commentators, included in works of fiction, and generally sent up, she must be complimented for her support of rising talent and gifted persons. In addition to Gertler she patronised (and in some cases had affairs with some of these artists) which in the pre-Bloomsbury days included painters like Charles Conder and Augustus John. Both artists painted her portrait and it was in Conder’s studio in 1906 that she first saw some of John’s pictures. A short time after John was introduced to her by Conder and both were mutually fascinated by the theatricality of each other’s appearance and manner. On a subsequent visit to John’s studio, Ottoline was introduced to Clive and Vanessa Bell who was described as having “the beauty of an early Watts picture, melancholy and dreamy.” Ottoline was ineluctably drawn to artists and intellectuals, most of which resulted in complex entanglements, not exclusively artistic, and usually of an intimate nature. Through Bloomsbury she also met painters like Simon Bussy (above) and Roger Fry, both of whom painted her portrait, though she described Fry’s as painted in “indifferent colours.” Much to his delight, Fry found that the chatelaine of Garsington was well-informed about developments in modern French art which helped their friendship to grow. On a trip to Paris in 1909 Ottoline had visited a post-impressionist exhibition with Dorelia John, and on another occasion had visited Matisse’s studio. In 1911, on the day before Fry embarked for Turkey, friendship turned into an affaire which threw Fry into confusion. Ottoline had probably allowed this to develop secure in the knowledge that Fry was on the point of departure, though he considered delaying his journey. Luckily, Fry remained blissfully ignorant of the fact that at this time Ottoline was seeing both the philosopher Bertrand Russell and the painter Henry Lamb!
 Quoted in Michael Holroyd, Augustus John, (Chatto and Windus, 19996), 262.
 Frances Spaulding, Roger Fry: Art and Life (Black Dog, 1980), 136.
In 1921, a young Aldous Huxley published a satirical novel about the lives and loves of eccentric individuals in a country house. Crome in the novel Crome Yellow was modelled on Lady Ottoline’s house in Oxfordshire, Garsington; and the characters were partly based on Ottoline and the notable intellectuals, painters, writers and fashionistas she gathered around her. Huxley met his first wife, the Belgian Maria Nys there; she is shown along with Ottoline, Lytton Strachey, Grant and Bell in a famous photo of the Bloomsbury coterie, though Shone does not see Ottoline as “Bloomsbury in the strict sense” due to patronage of “anti-Bloomsbury” intellectuals like D.H. Lawrence. Also shown in this photograph is a young Mark Gertler who during his time at the Slade was called by Christopher Nevinson in his autobiography a “Jewish Botticelli” because of his racial origins and his good looks. Born in Spitallfields in 1891, Gertler was the youngest child of Polish-Jewish immigrants. Showing a precocious talent for drawing, Gertler enrolled in various schools, but had to drop out due to lack of financial means. In 1908 Gertler came third in a national art competition, and thanks to another Jewish artist, Rothenstein, the young East Ender enrolled at the Slade for four years. Here Gertler met the painter Dora Carrington who along with Gertler may figure as characters in Huxley’s Crome Yellow. His passion for Carrington was never requited and Gertler spent most of his time with the homosexual Lytton Strachey, who to complicate matters was loved by Carrington. It was through Ottoline that Gertler gained his entry into the Bloomsbury Group, and this enabled him to meet brilliant minds like T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf. Another protégé of Ottoline’s circle, D. H. Lawrence, declared that Gertler’s darkly, menacing Merry-Go-Round was “the best modern picture I have ever seen.” Similarly to Huxley, Lawrence would eventually fall out of favour with Ottoline because he based a character in his Women in Love on her. The edginess of Gertler’s later pictures may have been caused by tuberculosis which forced him into sanatoriums during the next two decades. His friends, Lawrence and the New Zealand writer Katharine Mansfield, a satellite member of Garsington, would die of this disease. Though Gertler’s art was admired by the Bloomsbury Group, there were lingering doubts about his personality which seemed to have notable defects. After a visit from Gertler in 1918, Virginia Woolf was characteristically merciless in her assessment of the young genius: “Good God, what an egoist!” We have been talking about Gertler to Gertler for some 30 hours; it is like putting a microscope to your eye…He hoards an insatiable vanity. I suspect the truth to be that he is very anxious for the good opinion of people like ourselves, & would immensely like to be thought well of by Duncan [Grant], Vanessa [Bell] & Roger [Fry]. His triumphs have been too cheap so far. However this is honestly outspoken, & as I say, he has power & intelligence, & will, one sees, paint good interesting pictures, though some rupture of the brain would have to take place before he could be a painter.” That “rupture of the brain” may have contributed both to his talent and depression at his life-situation. Gertler gassed himself in 1939.
“You’re the only one now Henry James has gone who uses language as a medium of art.” Roger Fry on Virginia’s Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall.”
If one were asked to curate an exhibition of the work of the two famous Bloomsbury sisters, one might show a selection of Vanessa’s self-portraits next to Virginia’s writings such as A Room of One’s Own: painter and writer side by side. Yet, things are not so clear-cut: Vanessa penned private memoirs, recently edited and published; Virginia wrote a biography of her friend Roger Fry and attended his exhibitions. Moreover, Fry’s remark suggests that in the Bloomsbury circle there was a certain interest in a modernist paragone, a comparison of different kinds of art. It is not for this art historian to ponder the question of whether Woolf’s writing is of a “post-impressionistic” nature, though some art historians more familiar with the visual and textual Bloomsbury canon have tried to use Fry’s comment (and others) to frame these kind of aesthetic debates. For example, Frances Spalding has examined letters from Virginia to Vanessa in which the former comments on paintings by the latter, in the process musing on how she could write such pictures as Three Women (above) in prose. This didn’t happen but Spalding considers the Woolf’s short story “The Mark on the Wall” which eschews plot, character in favour of a “roving consciousness” which alights on objects aided by memory. Disconcertingly, the Woolfs were handed the first four chapters of Joyce’s Ulysses whose stream of consciousness method paralleled her own. Perhaps this accounts for Woolf’s grudging acknowledgement of Joyce’s genius when he died in 1941. He got there first! Then there are the series of four paintings of Woolf done by Bell where the face is left blank which might indicate “a progression towards abstraction,” or the kind of silence described in some of Woolf’s novels like The Voyage Out.
 Quoted in Frances Spalding, Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision ( NPG, 2014).
Vanessa Bell: Sketches in Pen and Ink, edited Lia Giachero, (Hogarth Press, 1998).
 Spalding (VW, 103) mentions Woolf having dinner with Fry and Bell. Fry asked her “wether she founded her writing on texture or structure. The question which derived from Fry’s familiarity with the visual arts, reverberated in her mind, and became part of her thinking about the aesthetic of the novel.”
Born on the 30th May 1879, Vanessa Bell was the oldest child of Sir Leslie Stephen and his second wife Julia Duckworth. For the Stephens the proper study of mankind was books; it is therefore surprising that Vanessa would embark on an artistic career. In the early days painters did visit: Burne-Jones, G.W.F. Watts, and Charles Furse whose portrait of her was shown at the NEAC in 1902. A pupil of Legros at the Slade, he was very much disposed towards the French Impressionists, Degas and Whistler. Vanessa would come to prefer Whistler to Watts. After an apprenticeship with Arthur Cope, Vanessa got into the Royal Academy Schools where she was taught by Sargeant. This was supplemented with study of renaissance masters in Florence and Venice where she found Tintoretto “an absolute revelation,” though Titian would be rated above all the others. Returning via Paris, Vanessa met Clive Bell, her future husband; they married in London in 1907. Between 1908 and 1909 Vanessa occasionally showed at the NEAC (above) while absorbing the Italian masters on the continent again, this time in company with Clive who proved a good travelling companion. For Vanessa’s artistic development though, the most important year would have been the following, 1910 when she heard Roger Fry lecture at the Friday Club. Straight from his fraught tenure at the Metropolitan Museum, the forty-four year old critic would open Vanessa’s mind to new and excited thoughts on art as well as considerably widening her intellectual horizons at the ground-breaking post-impressionist exhibitions in 1910 and 1912. Thus the young Bloomsbury painter would be launched onto the sea of modernism with Fry as her guiding star.
“…when the Carfax Gallery opens its doors…and invites the cultivated public to look at the paintings of Duncan Grant, that public will have the chance of discovering what has for some time been known to alert critics here and abroad- that at last we have in England a painter whom Europe may have to take seriously.” Clive Bell, 1920.
Duncan Grant was born into an upper-middle class Scottish family in 1885; he spent most of his early life in India where his father’s regiment was stationed. Grant attended St Paul’s in London, and soon after lived with the Strachey family who were his cousins. It was Lady Strachey who persuaded Duncan’s parents to let him study painting; thus the boy entered the Westminster School of Art until 1905 where he was taught by an ex-Slade professor, Mouat Loudan, a Scotsman of French extraction. Afterwards Grant would continue his studies in Paris as well as spending much time copying pictures in leading European museums like the Uffizi advised by such artists as Simon Bussy, an artist who had studied under Moreau in Paris; and who would surprise everyone by marrying Dorothy Strachey in 1902. Also important to Grant was the school in Paris run by Blanche known as “La Palette.” Blanche particularly approved of Grant’s copy of a Chardin still-life which would awaken the artist to the magic of everyday objects. According to Shone, Grant’s “early preferences” were Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, the Sienese and early Florentine painters, Poussin (particularly his drawings) and Chardin. This is an interesting list as it compasses renaissance primitivism (including Byzantine influenced art by way of Siena), classicism and domestic realism. Grant was also living in the moment. In his early career a number of contemporary English artists and intellectuals crossed the Scottish artist’s path: individuals like Wyndham Lewis (who depressed Grant in Paris; both would not meet again until they became Camden Town artists in 1911) and Henry Lamb who introduced the Scot to the Welsh Augustus John living in Paris with his mistress while his wife was dying in hospital. Grant would also visit John’s sister, Gwen who had not yet opted for living a life of complete isolation at Meudon. Grant also developed “a marked preference for elegance, sobriety and formal values in Art.” This can be seen in his portrait of James Strachey (above) which is infused with an air of desinvoltura and languid grace; this might be compared with Lamb’s eccentric portrait of Bloomsbury chieftain, Lytton Strachey. Praised by art luminaries like William Rothenstein and enjoying the lifelong patronage and friendship of Bloomsbury notable Maynard Keynes until the latter’s death in 1946, Grant was soon drawn into the orbit of Vanessa and Clive Bell, “early Bloomsbury,” though he had met Vanessa in 1905. After a trip to Turkey in 1911, Fry would fall in love with Vanessa and they would have a brief affair; but she would soon extricate herself and turn to Grant, but in true Bloomsbury fashion, Clive and Vanessa avoided the vulgarity of a formal divorce preferring the sophisticated way of loving.
 Quoted in Harrison, English Art and Modernism, 149.
 Much of what follows is based on Richard Shone’s Bloomsbury Portraits: Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and their Circle ( Phaidon, 1976).
 Though some see the heyday of Bloomsbury as the 1920s and 30s with the group ending with the death of Lytton Strachey in 1932, Shone (Bloomsbury Portraits, 15) dates its beginnings to 1910, the “private Bloomsbury” which only became more public after hitting the headlines after the war.
The upper-middle class aesthetic set known as the “Bloomsbury Group” will need no introduction to students of literary criticism, devotees of modernist novel-writing, and viewers of sensationalised soap operas about the romantic entanglements of this set of closeted intellectuals and hyper-aesthetic individuals. Bloomsbury “lived in squares but loved in triangles,” so the saying goes. However, though the names of Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot and others are well-known, the painters associated with this circle languish in relative obscurity save when they are dragged into the light for the occasional beating at the hands of curators and critics. Why are artists like Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell (Virginia’s sister), neglected at best, and mauled at worst by an unforgiving art history establishment? Both Grant and Bell are considered in more detail below, but it is helpful to preface those biographies with some notes on the reputation of Bloomsbury painters since the war. Of the two, Grant has had an easier ride with art historians finding things to equally praise as well as blame. For example, after Grant’s death in 1978, Kenneth Clark wrote an assessment praising Grant’s merits as both a scene designer and landscapist; though he emphasises that the abstract formal pictures of Grant’s early career were mainly the result of applying Roger Fry’s theories to art. Over a decade later, in one of the most influential accounts of English modernism, Charles Harrison seemed keen to write Bell and Grant out of English art after the closure of the Omega workshops in 1918. However, the severest criticism has been directed at Vanessa Bell, exemplified in 1993 with the notorious misogynistic remark of the late Brian Sewell who dismissed a nude of Bell as hardly “the favourite of a purblind lesbian.” A few years later, in 1999, a tribe of critics came whooping after the Bloomsburies intent on securing scalps to display in their various journalistic trophy rooms. More moderate and reasonable voices have cautioned against this wholesale massacre. True, Bloomsbury may not be the greatest art in the world, but it is part of the story of English modernism, and therefore deserves calmer, restrained assessment. For example, Andrew Graham Dixon rightly pointed up the importance of Bloomsbury work to applied art and design which though born of Fry’s Omega Group, had a distinctive character of its own when produced by Bell and Grant. And it does a grave disservice to Grant to dismiss him as a mere decorator or “an invention of Fry” (Wyndham Lewis) when there are many fine pictures, especially in the earlier phases of his career which clearly found favour with French artists like Jacques Émile Blanche who taught him . It may be the case that Bloomsbury art awaits a more sympathetic and knowledgeable expositor to provide a clear optic rather than the prejudiced distorting mirror through which Bloomsbury art is usually seen.
 “Duncan Grant” in Douglas Blair Turnbaugh, Duncan Grant and the Bloomsbury Group (1987), 107-108.
 Charles Harrison, English Art and Modernism 1900-1939, (Yale, 1981), 145f.
 Brian Sewell, Review of womens’ art at the Tate Gallery, 1993, collected in The Reviews that Caused the Rumpus, (Bloomsbury, 1994), 177-180.
William Orpen, “I keep thinking of the soldiers who remain in France forever.”
By 1919 the Imperial War Museum (IWM) was concentrating less on acquisition and more on display of the growing collection. At the same time the Arts Subcommittee commissioned pictures from William Orpen and Augustus John to mark the official settlement at the end of the war,- the Peace Conference at Versailles. The most important of these was Orpen’s paintings of the Versailles settlement (above). If the war authorities had been hoping for a conventional treatment of the proceedings, they were to be sorely disappointed. John didn’t submit anything and Orpen’s view of the conference was ironic. In his representation of the proceedings Orpen seems to put more effort into painting the reflections in the famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. And his stark and dignified view of a coffin draped with the Union Jack outside a symbolic dark space with a crucifix at the end is hardly celebratory but profoundly sympathetic for the soldiers in the trenches. As Orpen said “I keep thinking of the soldiers who remain in France forever.” Shown at the RA’s summer exhibition in 1923, “To the Unknown Soldier” was voted by the public picture of the year, though Haig rejected it as Orpen had expected. It is an iconic image of the tragedy of war. Following his two large official paintings A Conference at the Quai d'Orsay and The Signing of the Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, Orpen painted a third in memory of the British Army dead. To begin with, he considered grouping together different portraits of the dead, and then he replaced them with a catafalque draped in a flag on which a helmet was placed. At least, that is what can be seen today. Initially however, Orpen had placed on either side of the coffin soldiers with shell-shocked faces, holding their guns and naked, except for a tattered blanket. Over them, two cherubs held either side of a floral wreath reaching down to the marble floor. The postures, the expressions, the nudity and the bitter irony of the symbols gave rise to extremely contrasting reactions when the painting was presented to the public in the autumn of 1923. It was seen by visitors as the most remarkable work of the year but attacked in the press on grounds of dignity and good taste. In the end, five years later, Orpen offered to make some changes to the painting, and removed the ghosts, the cherubs and the wreaths. All that remained was a solemn symbol which had lost most of its denunciatory intensity in the process.