Woman of Substance


The Bloomsbury group was named after an area of London defined by its polite yellow-brick Georgian squares and academic institutions. Out of a house in one of these squares, a group of intellectuals, artists, and writers comprised of friends and family regularly gathered to discuss, debate, and challenge the social norms and ideas of the day. Key members included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey, and Vanessa Bell, among others. It was their close friendships and alternative relationships solidified in the first decades of the 20th century that nurtured and influenced the artistic and intellectual output of this group—resulting in a profound impact on culture, art, and literature in Britain and beyond.

The group has been explored extensively over the past century. This summer, however, an exhibition at London’s Garden Museum focuses on the gardens of Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Lady Ottoline Morrell, and Vita Sackville-West. “Gardening Bohemia: Bloomsbury Women Outdoors” (May 15—September 29), is the first-ever exhibition to explore these outdoor spaces.

“These are the four women of the group where the garden and creativity really interplay,” says Emma House, Curator of the Garden Museum. The exhibition is guest-curated by Dr. Claudia Tobin and designed by an all-female team from Motive Productions. Tobin approached the subject of this exhibition through Virginia Woolf’s 1929 critical essay, A Room of One’s Own, which explores the idea of women’s need for space, both intellectual and physical, to exist freely, away from societal expectations and constraints, to create literature and art.

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This story appeared in the Summer 2024 issue of MILIEU.