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Bloomsbury Bliss

This past June, we offered a tour called Bloomsbury Revisited, which quickly sold out and was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Our participants appreciated our focused tour agenda which offered opportunities to visit places and art collections not on public view, and hold discussions with subject experts and family members. We’re now planning the tour for next spring that will make the week’s tour even better and more enjoyable. If you or a friend are a fan of the Bloomsbury Group – Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell, John Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry, Clive Bell, and their friends such as Vita Sackville West, we invite you to set aside this week and join us.

At the turn of the 20th century, a group of writers and artists began to gather together in Bloomsbury, that part of London near the British Museum and a number of colleges and universities, that was becoming the city’s Bohemian center. This small group of sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, lovers and friends known collectively as the Bloomsbury Group included the Stephen sisters Virginia and Vanessa and their brother Thoby, Leonard Wolf, Duncan Grant, E. M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry and Clive Bell. They met regularly to discuss literature, aesthetics, economics and issues such as feminism, pacifism and sexuality. Their art, novels, publications and exhibitions delighted some and disturbed others. Ultimately they would exert a disproportional influence upon the art and ideas of the modern age.

More than a century later, we will spend a week following in their footsteps, visiting the places in London where they lived, exhibited and held their meetings. Many of the ideas they advanced were percolated at Cambridge and no trip examining this group would be complete without a visit there. Then we head south to Sussex and Surrey to visit those homes where escaping city life, they continued to explore their innovative ways of thinking working and living.

Our trip begins in London, in Bloomsbury, with a walking tour lead by Jean Moorcroft Wilson an author of several books on members of the Bloomsbury group, who with her husband, Cecil Woolf, Leonard Wilson’s nephew, will host a reception at their home. In London are several behind the scenes visits to collections from museums accompanied by Robert Upstone, former curator at Tate Britain.

We’ll spend a day in Cambridge where so many of them met. Several of them were members of The Apostles, a secret society centered at Kings College, though some were at other colleges. Virginia Woolf wrote about a luncheon held there in her book “A Room of One’s Own” and it will be recreated for us as a dinner to give us a taste of those times and conversations.

Then we journey down to Lewes in Sussex where we stay for four nights at The Shelleys, were they often met and eat and talked. While here we will have a tour of the marvelous Charleston Farmhouse home of Vanessa and Clive Bell, where they and Duncan Grant, worked and hosted family friends. Almost a time capsule, this rather simple farmhouse and its pond and walled garden and studios were rented during the First World War and they continued to live and work there.

We will visit Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Monks House which is quite nearby. One of Virginia’s closest friends was Vita Sackville-West whose ancestral home is Knole. As a daughter she could not inherit, so when she married Nigel Nicolson, they bought Sissinghurst. Over the years they restored many of the buildings and built one of the most exceptional and glorious gardens in all of the southeast of England.

Not too far away in Surrey is Durbins, the home that Roger Fry designed for his family. And not too far from that is the Watts Gallery, Watts Mortuary Chapel and Limnerslease the home and studio of G.F.Watts. While Watts, one of the most famous of England’s 19th-century artists, may seem almost to be of another century, there are many connections to the Bloomsbury. He painted Virginia and Vanessa’s father, Vanessa studied with him, and Roger Fry gave a talk at the Gallery.

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