An exhibition of some works of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. These artists were part of the group known as the Bloomsbury Group who had served as conscientious objectors on Sussex farms during World War One; they stayed on in Sussex to set up the delightful Charleston Farmhouse whilst contributing designs to the Omega workshops in London as well as creating their individual pieces.
This wasn’t an ideal exhibition - some of their best works were not shown and there was relatively little explanation to place the artists’ work in context. I was left with the impression that Duncan Grant had the ideas but Vanessa Bell was the better painter.
Duncan Grant’s paintings of women seem rarely as heart-felt as his male portraits: I’ve always liked his portrait of his friend the mountaineer George Mallory, who died on Everest. The exhibition also shows one of the photos of Mallory naked. The group’s designs for the Omega workshops seem to have had more a enduring influence whilst their own indoor decorations for Charleston represented their best work. However that may be an unfair impression because of the selection on show.
Charleston Farmhouse has a great atmosphere and a fantastic garden and was clearly the focus point for the Bloomsbury group in Sussex although Virginia Woolf and Leonard Woolf lived nearby in the more affluent village of Rodmell.
The comparison is interesting with the work or James Ensor in Belgium who was active at roughly the same and who happened to have a large-scale exhibition that I saw this year in Den Haag. The group had access to the works of other post-modern artists including Picasso and Matisse as organisers of exhibitions in London but their work presented here doesn't seem to have particularly been enhanced as a result: the large canvas "The Ass" is the most striking example of the tribal style that seems, with the benefit of hindsight, to have been a dead end.
Had I been around in their era and had had the choice of artist from whom to commission a painting, I hope I would have chosen Henry Scott Tuke or Augustus John or Eric Kennington, all of whom worked with T.E. Lawrence. But which party invitation to accept had I received clashing invitations to parties at Charleston Farmhouse and Clouds Hill?