Right of Reply: James Beechey

The biographer of Clive Bell and contributor to the catalogue of The Art of Bloomsbury exhibition at the Tate, replies to Philip Hensher's attack on the Bloomsbury Group
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The Independent Culture
PHILIP HENSHER is entitled to his opinions on Bloomsbury, even to his belief that Henry Green (admittedly a highly original and underrated writer) was a greater novelist than Virginia Woolf - but, if he is going to accuse Bloomsbury's apologists of ignorance, he himself ought to be more careful with the facts.

Hensher's article is a catalogue of inaccuracies. When Woolf, in her essay "Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown", suggested that human nature changed in 1910 she was not only referring to Roger Fry's momentous Post-Impressionist exhibition, but to a more general sea change in British society as the curtain came down on the Edwardian age. It is quite erroneous to assert that the European contemporaries whom Fry and Clive Bell admired and promoted, couldn't "give a toss for the opinions of the Bloomsbury aesthetes"; Bell was a welcome visitor to Picasso's studio, while Matisse wrote to tell him "how greatly touched I am at having been so well understood by you".

Predictably, Hensher cannot resist a jibe about Bloomsbury's "rackety" sex lives, but he manages to muddle up almost all the protagonists; even when he delivers his coup de grace with the indictment that "these people belong not to the history of culture, but to the history of publicity", he misquotes an accusation directed by FR Leavis to the Sitwells - not Bloomsbury - a quite distinct social and artistic grouping.

Finally he asks, apropos of the Tate's exhibition The Art of Bloomsbury: "Does anyone, really, like any of this rubbish?" Well, 500 people saw the show in the first two hours it was open, and the galleries have since thronged with enthusiasts. How ironic that it is not Bloomsbury or its supporters who are guilty of snobbery, but sneering journalists who decry an exhibition that is already a popular success.