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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


As some of you know, I consider the Languedoc in Southern France to be my spiritual home. The Languedoc is, for me, about primeval outcrops of rock, craggy garrigue slopes covered with tough wild herbs, chestnut trees and and stringy broom bushes, streams of pure water cascading past ruined stone-built dwellings which stand alone and invincible, and a climate that is seductive, fearful and hostile in equal measure. Though I am now unable to visit as often as in the past, the region still infuses my paintings with a searing energy.

In years gone by, when I spent many months of the year in the Languedoc mountains, I used to socialise a lot with an extraordinary lady named Sandra Lummis, formerly one of the foremost UK dealers in art by the Bloomsbury group, who had moved to the region to retire with her equally fascinating husband, Trevor Lummis, a leading historian. The wonderful painting below shows Sandra exactly as I remember her.

SANDRA LUMMIS - David Atack, 1990 (copyright David Atack)

Dinners and parties at the Lummis home, with spectacular views across a valley towards the Grandes Causses of the Aveyron, were regular occurrences, when one would walk into a simple, ancient stone-built house with an open fireplace, filled with priceless paintings by the likes of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.

OMEGA DESIGN FOR A BEDHEAD - Duncan Grant, c 1917

The Bloomsbury 'set' was a group of artists, writers and intellectuals in general, who were active in the first half of the twentieth century, predominantly in the Bloomsbury area of London. The group is not without its critics – some regard them as pretentious dabblers, as somehow complacent, elitist and unoriginal, a little too obsessed with their own perceived bohemianism. Many of the attitudes and beliefs of the Bloomsbury set were, however, forward-thinking for their time; these included views on pacifism, sexuality and feminism, together with more specifically intellectual notions.

Vanessa Bell's forays into abstraction and semi-abstraction please me a great deal. I particularly like the painting illustrated below in which the slightly peculiar composition works quite delightfully, its isolated pink and rust-coloured shapes standing apart from the huddled forms on the left of the picture.

ABSTRACT PAINTING - Vanessa Bell, c 1914

Bell's work seems to me to have strongly influenced the likes of Ben Nicholson and his wife Winifred Nicholson, both purveyors of some exceptional examples of British abstraction. Muted tones, and precise though softly poetic geometry abound.

MOONLIGHT AND LAMPLIGHT - Winifred Nicholson, 1937


Vanessa Bell, along with her artist husband Clive and their colleague Roger Fry, were among the first British artists to explore Abstraction. The Bloomsbury group's reputation extended abroad too, with Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and Erik Satie taking an interest in the movement.

Through the Friday Club, the Grafton Group and the London Artists' Association as well as by personal patronage, The Bloomsbury painters actively and energetically supported the work of young artists for many years to come. This direct support, and its lineage, surely confirms the importance of the Bloomsbury Group in the development of twentieth and twenty-first century art.

Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2023


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