Paintings by the Bloomsbury group, crowd scenes by Merchant Ivory

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The Independent Online
YOU CAN tell the tenor of an exhibition by its celebrity visitors. When the Turner Prize artists presented their wares to the public a couple of weeks ago, the singer Madonna, to the surprise of the Tate, was among the first to gawp at Tracey Emin's unmade bed.

Yesterday, the first time that the paintings of the Bloomsbury group had been displayed together, saw visitors of a different kind.

Relatives and descendants of the original Bloomsbury artists were at the private view before the official opening, mixing with collectors, celebrity lenders and others with connections to the group of aesthetes who still fascinate.

The actress Helena Bonham Carter, who has starred in films based on E M Forster's books, viewed the exhibition with Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, the punk godfather Malcolm McLaren, Paloma Picasso and footballer David Ginola. The singer Bryan Ferry was among collectors who had lent pictures to the Tate, on the Embankment in London.

The retrospective of the work of Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry runs until the end of January. The many portraits on display include those of E M Forster, Aldous Huxley, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey and Virginia and Leonard Woolf, alongside abstracts and landscapes, photographs, furniture and artefacts decorated by the artists.

One visitor who has a place in the original Bloomsbury story is Angelica Garnett, aged 80, the daughter of Bell and Grant. She grew up believing she was the daughter of Vanessa Bell and her husband, Clive. Only when she was 18 did she learn who her real father was. She is an artist and lives in the south of France.

She said: "This is marvellous for me to see - a sort of approval or recognition at last towards the end of my life. There has been a very strong anti- Bloomsbury coterie for a long time which I suppose may be one reason it has taken so long to have this retrospective.

"People have attacked the Bloomsbury Group for being an elite. What people have forgotten is how small the world was then and I see no wrong in there being an elite as long as the members of it knew what role they had to play."

One of the exhibits was of a table and chairs decorated by her parents which she remembered from her childhood at Charleston, the farmhouse on the Sussex Downs where her mother lived and which served as the country base for the group.

The exhibition, curated by art historian Richard Shone, concentrates on the period 1910-1925. It begins by showing how the artists formed an important grouping within the intense and vibrant avant-garde in London before the First World War, when they produced some of the earliest pure abstract art. After the war, the lyrical and sensuous aspects of their work came more strongly to the fore.

The exhibition also includes examples of works by Bloomsbury contemporaries including Dora Carrington and Walter Sickert.

Philip Hensher Review, page 4