…Exhibition secretary, newlywed Leonard Woolf, about to turn 32, is glad to have this job.
Returning last year to his native England after a seven-year stint with the British civil service in Ceylon, Leonard had married Virginia Stephen, 30, the sister of one of his Cambridge University friends. It took a lot of persuading, but Virginia had finally said yes.
While they were on their extensive honeymoon, the Woolfs’ friend, art critic Roger Fry, 45, had sent an urgent message asking if Leonard would act as secretary for this major art show Fry was mounting, as soon as the they got back to London. Leonard agreed to do it at least until the end of the year, as he had no other job waiting for him.
Catalogue cover, Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, by Duncan Grant
Now Leonard is sitting at his table in the second room of the gallery, ready to help any potential buyers. Mostly, he has been disgusted by the reactions of the British middle-class to the modern art on the walls, writing later:
The whole business gave me a lamentable view of human nature, its rank stupidity and uncharitableness. I used to think, as I sat there, how much nicer were the Tamil or Sinhalese villagers who crowded into the veranda of Ceylon Kachcheri than these smug, well dressed, ill-mannered, well-to-do Londoners. Hardly any of them made the slightest attempt to look at, let alone understand, the pictures, and the same inane question or remarks were repeated to me all day long.
Today, however, two New Yorkers have spent quite a lot of time here, asking lots of questions about the art. They are excited to hear that Fry’s show is going so well, because they’re scouting for a similar exhibit they plan to present in New York City next spring. Although they say that the art is not as impressive as what they have just seen in Paris, the Americans feel work by the late Paul Cezanne is the best in the show. And they are telling their Paris representative to get as many paintings by Henri Matisse, 42, as he can.
Leonard is pleased that at least somebody understands what Fry is trying to do, even if they are American.
A Room at the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, Matisse Room, by Vanessa Bell, Leonard’s sister-in-law, 1912
This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.
If you were able to watch the BBC Two drama Life in Squares about the Bloomsbury group, let us know what you think.
To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.