Patti Smith's Photographic Homage to the Bloomsbury Group

Patti Smith, Vanessa Bell’s Library, Duncan Grant’s painting of Vanessa Bell in her Mother’s Dress, 2006
Patti Smith, Vanessa Bell’s Library, Duncan Grant’s painting of Vanessa Bell in her Mother’s Dress, 2006 | © Patti Smith. Courtesy the artist and Robert Miller Gallery

Art & Design Editor

The celebrated American musician, writer and artist Patti Smith has long been inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and pays homage to the bohemian collective through a series of compelling black and white photographs.

As the face of New York’s 70s punk scene, it might seem strange to find Patti Smith enamoured by the Bloomsbury Group, an English set of influential writers and artists that included Roger Fry, Virginia Woolf, her sister Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant. But the songstress felt quite at home on her first visit to painter Vanessa Bell’s rural retreat, Charleston in Sussex, because it reflects the ethos that art is part of everyday living.

Patti Smith, Vanessa Bell’s Library, Duncan Grant’s painting of Vanessa Bell in her Mother’s Dress, 2006

In an interview about her 2003 residency at the Sussex farmhouse, which the Bloomsbury Group frequented regularly, Smith said, ‘When I first came here I found it like home. I felt a real longing to document this place in the same manner that I document my own home because it is very much how I live.’

Patti Smith, 2014

Using a Polaroid Land, which Smith refers to as a ‘simple’ camera, the polymath set about documenting Charleston, focusing on the intimate spaces the aesthetes inhabited and the implements they used. The result is a collection of poetic and evocative grainy black and white photographs that act as abstract portraits of these fascinating artists.

Patti Smith, Paint Brushes, Duncan Grant’s studio, 2008

Bell’s bed looks as if someone has just risen from a slumber, and the painter’s lover Duncan Grant’s paintbrushes give the impression of still being in use.
Smith has said she only ever takes photographs for herself, as opposed to her music, which she makes for the people. Therefore, this series of works becomes even more bound in intimate appreciation and surpasses sheer observation, but reveals the desire to capture the essence and creativity of this bygone movement.

Patti Smith, Vanessa Bell’s Bed, 2003

You can see 17 of Smith’s grainy black-and-white photographs juxtaposed by a selection of Vanessa Bell’s photo albums at Dulwich Picture Gallery in Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith until June 4, 2017.

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