Angelica painting at Charleston by Duncan Grant, £26,000 at Bonhams.

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The circle of English painters, writers and philosophers known as the Bloomsbury Group played an influential role in British cultural life during the early 20th century.

Radical and progressive, they championed gender and sexual equality, liberal politics, as well as the arts.

Within the context of the Modern British art market, demand appears to be flourishing for Bloomsbury. Capitalising on the current appetite, Bonhams (28/27/21/14.5% buyer’s premium) offered a select timed online sale dedicated to the set’s artistic output.

It drew spirited bidding and a surge of new collectors with a 100% selling rate (including a couple of after-sales) from 39 lots and a hammer total just shy of £370,000.

Held across 10 days from April 8-18, the auction offered mainly privately consigned material sourced from multiple collections including oil paintings, drawings, sketch books and a smattering of ceramics.

Just half-a-dozen artists featured including core members Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry and the prolific Duncan Grant, whose works accounted for nearly half the sale.

“In the last few years, we have seen increasing numbers of collectors come to the market every time we offered works by Bloomsbury artists, especially Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant,” said Bonhams’ Ingram Reid, head of sale for the Modern British & Irish Art auctions.

“This was a really good moment to offer something a little more focused and the results are testament to how strong the interest is in the group currently.”

New sale series

It was the second in a new series of ‘curated’ timed online Mod Brit sales at Bonhams, following the success of London Colour last April. Aside from the lower running costs for auction houses, they offer clients flexibility to place and track bids. Collectors also have more time to consider other works by the same artist in the event they are outbid.

“People really benefit when there is a slender selection of artists from this type of buying because you can jump backwards and forwards [in the sale] so easily. I know there are instances where we have achieved a higher price for lots online in this context than we would have in a traditional live format,” said Reid.

Buyers fell into two distinct camps: those with a purely Bloomsbury interest and those with a broader interest in Modern British art. Both the volume of new collectors and level of international participation were stronger than predicted. As well as the UK, interest came from North America (which included some “big name Hollywood luminaries”), continental Europe, and, somewhat unexpectedly, Asia.

“It is hard to say why, but the jumping-off point for most people is a visit to Charleston [the former East Sussex home of Bell and Grant]. It wouldn’t surprise me if some these Asian collectors who do not have a specific interest in Modern British art may have found a visit to Charleston so inspirational that it was their entry into this group of artists,” said Reid.

‘Delightfully spontaneous’

Collectors routinely fork out more for subjects featuring the impressively decorated East Sussex home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and this sale was no exception. Among the Charleston lots was a c.1940 portrait by Duncan Grant (1885-1978) of his daughter Angelica painting in the main studio.

The 2ft 7in x 21in (77 x 52cm) oil on paper and board, described as a “delightfully spontaneous image”, hung in the dining room of Charleston until at least 1964. More recently, it had resided in a private American collection on the west coast where it had been since brought for £10,000 from a Christie’s sale in 2004. Against a £12,000-18,000 estimate at Bonhams, it sold at £26,000.


The Pond at Charleston by Duncan Grant, £16,000 at Bonhams.

Charleston was also key to the appeal of a Grant landscape, dated 1956, which showed the estate’s pond and a distant view of Firle Beacon. Acquired directly from Grant by the vendors, the 22in x 2ft 6in (56 x 76cm) oil on board tipped over top estimate to sell for £16,000.

Doucet by Bell


Portrait of Henri Doucet by Vanessa Bell, £70,000 at Bonhams.

The top lot was an early Bloomsbury period portrait by Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) depicting French artist Henri Doucet. (His creations for the group’s artistic interiors firm, the Omega Workshops, are highly regarded today.)

Bell painted the 16½ x 14in (42 x 35cm) oil on panel in 1912 - the year the group were first called ‘Bloomsbury’ - and while Doucet was staying with her at Asheham House in the Sussex Downs. He was killed three years later in Belgium during his first week of fighting in the trenches.

Last offered on the open market in 1987, it was consigned to Bonhams from an ‘important’ private American collection. It had hung alongside Duncan Grant’s portrait Vanessa Bell in a Yellow Shawl (c.1911- 12), which sold at Bonhams two years ago for £260,000 - an auction record for any Bloomsbury Group artist at the time.

Admired for its poignancy and presence, the Doucet portrait comfortably outstripped a £30,000- 50,000 estimate to sell for £70,000 to the same private collector as the Vanessa Bell portrait. “It is not a work the modern eye would look at and feel that this is a radical and startling approach to painting but in 1912 it absolutely was,” said Reid.

Bussy connects


Rooster by Simon Albert Bussy, £14,000 at Bonhams.

Elsewhere, a trio of distinctly modern-looking animal works by Simon-Albert Bussy (1870-1954) got away to three different private UK collectors.

The French painter, who married the English novelist Dorothy Strachey, also painted portraits. But his simplified depictions of animals - many based on sketches made at London Zoo - are especially attuned to today’s collecting tastes. In 2021, around £50,000 was paid for a pastel of two egrets at Swiss auction house Piguet Hôtel des Ventes, a record for the artist at auction.

Today, Bussy is also recognised as a lynchpin of the group. “Bussy knew a lot of the continental artists very well and brought Grant and Bell together, so people really like to have his work in their collections to remind them of all the artists relationships he forged,” said Reid.

The largest of the group was a 2ft 8in x 2ft 2in (81 x 66 cm) oil Rooster, executed in c.1925-26 and related to Bussy’s hand-stencilled pochoir print of the same title from the 1927 folio ‘Bestiaire’. Sourced from a UK private collection, it made £14,000 against a £6000-8000 guide. The two pastels - a starfish and Andean ‘Cock-of-the-Rock’ bird from a private French collection - sold for £10,000 and £6000 respectively.


Earthenware dish by Phyllis Keyes, £12,000 at Bonhams.

Further highlights included a unique c.1934 tin-glazed earthenware dish, made by London potter Phyllis Keyes (1881-1968) and decorated by Vanessa Bell, which sailed to a bullish £12,000 (£1500-2000 estimate)