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The Bloomsbury Group—and Its Painterly, Mishmashed Aesthetic—Is Making a Comeback

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In early 20th-century London, a circle of painters, writers, and thinkers congregated in the West End neighborhood known for its garden squares, called Bloomsbury. It was here that the somewhat incestuous, bohemian bunch—writer Virginia Woolf, painters Vanessa Bell (Woolf’s sister) and Duncan Grant, critic Roger Fry (who, along with Grant, had an affair with Bell), and intellectuals such as economist John Maynard Keynes and art critic Clive Bell (Vanessa’s husband)—engaged in an interdisciplinary exchange of ideas that embraced then-radical concepts about modern art, economics, philosophy, and sexuality. (As poet Dorothy Parker famously said, they “lived in squares and loved in triangles.”) 

The backdrop of it all? Unforgettable, delightfully cluttered interiors characterized by wild mashups of color and pattern, spirited ceramics, and decorative painting on almost every surface—lampshades, fireplaces, doors, and even bathtubs. The pinnacle of Bloomsbury panache can be seen at Charleston, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s country clubhouse of sorts in Sussex, England (as seen in AD back in March, 1981).

The guest room of music consultant Andrea Anson features paintings by artist Scott Robertson that were inspired by Charleston. 

Photo: Pieter Estersohn

The Bloomsbury Group is not a particularly new source of inspiration—take, for instance, the ravishing Manhattan guest room of music consultant Andrea Anson, which was redecorated in the likeness of a Charleston living room. But lately, as young designers indulge their more decorative side—and as interdisciplinary collaboration has become a kind of cultural currency—the Bloomsbury look, and the irreverent chic it represents, is making a comeback.

Fendi’s artistic director Kim Jones has been mining the movement since a revelatory trip to Charleston farmhouse at age 14. Now, in his 18th-century Sussex home, Jones has created his own kind of Charleston, chockablock with Bloomsbury Group references. There’s a 1912 desk painted by Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry in the study and a reproduction of a 1913 folding screen by Bell in the dining room. Not surprisingly, the inspiration has also found its way into his work for Fendi, where his spring 2021 couture collection paid homage to the movement, and a just-launched Rizzoli book is titled The Fendi Set: From Bloomsbury to Borghese. (The volume, which retails for $135, features photography by Nikolai von Bismarck and text by Jones, Jerry Stafford, and Dr. Mark Hussey.)

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