The Bloomsbury Group – and its painterly, mixed-up aesthetic – is making a comeback

In early 20th-century London, a circle of painters, writers and thinkers congregated in the West End, known for its garden squares known as Bloomsbury. Here lived 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 like economist John Maynard Keynes and the art critic Clive Bell (Vanessa’s husband) – engaged in an interdisciplinary exchange of ideas that included then-radical concepts about modern art, economics, philosophy and sexuality. (As the poet Dorothy Parker famously said, they “lived in squares and loved in triangles.”)

The background of everything? Unforgettable, delightfully ornate interiors, characterized by wild color and pattern combinations, spirited ceramics and decorative painting on almost every surface – lampshades, fireplaces, doors and even bathtubs. The pinnacle of Bloomsbury flair can be seen at Charleston, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s Country Clubhouse in Sussex, England (as seen in DISPLAY back in March 1981).

Music Advisor Andrea Anson’s guest bedroom features Charleston-inspired paintings by artist Scott Robertson.

Photo: Pieter Estersohn

The Bloomsbury Group isn’t a particularly new source of inspiration — take music consultant Andrea Anson’s gorgeous Manhattan guest room, for example, remodeled to resemble a living room in Charleston. But lately, as young designers indulge their more decorative side – and as interdisciplinary collaboration has become something of a cultural currency – the Bloomsbury look and the irreverent chic it represents is making a comeback.

Fendi’s artistic director Kim Jones has nurtured the movement since a revealing trip to the Charleston farmhouse at the age of 14. Now, in his 18th-century Sussex home, Jones has created his own brand of Charleston, brimming with references from the Bloomsbury Group. The study has a 1912 desk painted by Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry, and the dining room has a reproduction of a 1913 folding screen by Bell. Not surprisingly, inspiration has also found its way into his work for Fendi, where his couture collection for Spring 2021 paid tribute to the movement and a recently published Rizzoli book bears the title The Fendi Set: From Bloomsbury to Borghese. (The volume, which retails for $135, includes photographs by Nikolai von Bismarck and text by Jones, Jerry Stafford, and Dr. Mark Hussey.)

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