Reading 8

The following passage is taken from an article titled “British Modernism’s Many Manners” by Steve Moyer (© 2009 Steve Moyer).

  1. Bloomsbury, the group of innovative
  2. writers and artists, came out of its
  3. embryonic phase around 1910 as the
  4. Victorian era finally expired with
  5. the funeral of Edward VII. Its
  6. young mix of writers, thinkers,
  7. and artists stood at the vanguard
  8. of a shift in manners away from
  9. nineteenth-century formality and
  10. reticence and toward
  11. twentieth-century candor and
  12. playfulness. Male and female,
  13. mostly in their twenties, the
  14. Bloomsbury lot addressed each
  15. other by their first names and,
  16. till the wee hours of the morning,
  17. reflected on how to
  18. spend their lives.
  19. Fascinated by the difference
  20. between the world of appearances
  21. and the world of reality, in the
  22. visual and literary arts, the
  23. Bloomsberries (as they were
  24. sometimes called) experimented
  25. with brush and pen to express
  26. above all the subjective qualities
  27. of their work. For the painters,
  28. who opened themselves up to the currents swirling around on
  29. the Continent since the final days of
  30. Impressionism, this translated into
  31. an emphasis on line, mass, contour,
  32. and the rhythms they create.
  33. If any one work by the Bloomsbury
  34. painters sums up adequately the
  35. era’s avant-garde break with
  36. London’s Victorian taste in art, and
  37. the influence of the French Post-
  38. Impressionists on British artists, it
  39. would be Vanessa Bell’s 1915 oil on
  40. canvas of Mary St. John Hutchinson.
  41. With arched eyebrow, lips slightly
  42. pursed, and cool self-assurance,
  43. Mrs. Hutchinson sits noticing
  44. something to her left, and the
  45. viewer, disarmed at first perhaps by
  46. the flatness of the composition and
  47. the coarse brushwork, feels as much
  48. as sees the various tones of the few
  49. colors in the portrait—ochre, green,
  50. and pink, and, where the whites of
  51. the eyes should be, teal.
  52. The work broke all the reigning
  53. conventions in British painting.
  54. Treatment of subject, use of line and
  55. color, lack of shadowing, and the
  56. solidness of the background in
  57. relation to the figure are all in sync
  58. with the modernist modes that had
  59. been in style on the Continent,
  60. most notably in France.
  61. This English modernism struck a
  62. chord with American collectors who
  63. shared Bloomsbury’s rebellious
  64. streak. They reveled in the rejection
  65. of Victorian rigidities and embraced
  66. Bloomsbury’s lightheartedness.
  67. Inspired by Charleston farmhouse
  68. (itself an embodiment of
  69. Bloomsbury art and design
  70. sensibilities) and the ceramics and
  71. furniture produced by a Bloomsbury
  72. offshoot, the Omega Workshops,
  73. some Americans, before actually
  74. having the money in hand to collect,
  75. started copying the effects of
  76. Bloomsbury in their own homes,
  77. often painting their own interiors in
  78. the same unorthodox,
  79. highly decorative way.
  80. If Bloomsbury had been an art
  81. department, Roger Fry would have
  82. been faculty chairman. Fellow art
  83. critic Clive Bell called him the most
  84. open-minded person he had ever
  85. met. Painter, curator, and instigator,
  86. Fry studied the sciences at
  87. Cambridge in the 1880s, developing
  88. a habit of skepticism that would
  89. serve him well as he guided painters
  90. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant
  91. toward modernism in the years
  92. leading up to World War I. While at
  93. Cambridge, Fry came under the
  94. influence of philosopher G. E.
  95. Moore, who helped him and
  96. subsequently the Bloomsbury
  97. painters develop their
  98. aesthetic sense.