The Art of Bloomsbury

The Art of Bloomsbury

While prices for many 20th century artists – particularly those from the post-war era – have increased dramatically in the last 10-20 years, there has been a steady market for works by the Bloomsbury Group of artists, writers, and designers.

8 August 2021

The famed group has been much studied, admired, and mythologised for their philosophy and lifestyle. The folklore that has grown around them adds to their desirability as collectors buy into that magic.

Within visual arts, two of the most prominent names are Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) and her partner of some time Duncan Grant (1885-1978). Bell’s works have performed strongly at auction as far back as the 1990s (‘The model’ sold for £95,000 against an estimate of £50,000-70,000 at Sotheby’s on the 18 June 1997) but a recent highlight more than doubled that previous auction record when ‘Autumn Bouquet’ sold this year at Christie’s for £256,250 (Christie’s 2nd March 2021). The pre-sale estimate was a mere £25,000-35,000, suggesting it was a big surprise on the day. Interest stoked by the recent Philip Mould exhibition may have contributed to the price, adding market confidence. Strong bidding between the trade and private collectors can drive up prices dramatically. All at once, a market that was viewed as safe and consistent becomes more desirable and perhaps indicates the direction of travel for future sales.

Vanessa Bell sold at Sworders in 2013


Vanessa Bell (1879-1961)


Signed and dated 1935 l.r., oil on canvas

32 x 23cm



Duncan Grant (1885-1978) was more prolific, partly due to his long life (he died in 1978 at the age of 93) and his works come up regularly at auction. A search on Artprice brings up more than 1,600 listings against Bell’s 360. From works on paper, which can sell for under £5,000, to an auction record of £170,000, achieved in 2016 for a nude study of George Mallory (Christie’s June 20). A talented artist, his works come in a large variety of styles and mediums.


Duncan Grant at Sworders



Duncan Grant (1885-1978)


Signed l.r., oil on canvas

62 x 31 cm


Another member worthy of mention is the artist and critic Roger Fry who was so central to the ethos of the movement and, more widely, in the promotion of modern art in the Edwardian period. While his works generally don’t make the same figures as Bell and Grant, his record price was recorded last year at Bonhams for a portrait of E M Forster, another writer associated with the group. The price of £325,000 far outstripped any previous record for the artist (£56,500 for a portrait of Vanessa Bell in 2021) perhaps alluding to interest in the relationship between sitter and artist over interest in the painting itself.


Vanessa Bell Woodcut


Woolf, Virginia: Monday or Tuesday. Leonard & Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, Richmond, 1921.

First edition, first printing (1000 copies were printed).

Illustrated with 4 woodcuts by Vanessa Bell


The Bloomsbury Group’s resolution to promote design and the decorative arts, elevating them alongside fine art resulted in an explosion of activity initially through the Omega Workshop. Painted furniture, tiles, ceramics, fabric designs were produced in a wonderfully collaborative way. They created highly decorative pieces in all mediums, along with books and prints that offer huge variety for the collector starting at relatively modest sums of a few hundred pounds. This gives every enthusiast and every pocket the opportunity to get involved and buy their own piece of the Bloomsbury legend, ensuring their lasting place in 20th century culture.


all prices shown include fees





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