Vanessa Bell

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Painter and Interior designer Vanessa Bell was an illustrious twentieth century English artist. Besides, she was the sister of the literary icon Virginia Woolf and a chief figure of the Bloomsbury Group. Post World War I, her work was denoted fairly conventional following the traditional English Art.

Born on May 30, 1879, in London, Vanessa Bell grew up in a noble English family. She was the eldest child of Julia Prinsep Duckworth and Sir Leslie Stephen. She received her early education at home learning several languages, mathematics and had lessons in drawing. Ebenezer Cook mentored her in drawing and then she went on to attend Sir Arthur Cope’s Art School. In 1901, she headed to the Royal Academy to study painting. Subsequent to her parents’ death, Bell sold their house, 22 Hyde Park Gate and moved to Bloomsbury with her siblings. There the interacted with the artists, writers and intellectuals who then founded the Bloomsbury Group.

In 1907, Vanessa married an English art critic, Clive Bell from whom she had two sons Julian and Quentin. They had an open marriage which granted them a pass at infidelity. Bell had a daughter with the painter, Duncan Grant, whom Clive Bell raised as his own. Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, Vanessa with her family and lover moved to the Sussex countryside settling in a farmhouse. Staying at the farmhouse Bell and Grant took up the commissioned work for Omega Workshop. The same workshop provided opportunity for her first solo exhibition in 1916.

When Bell came to realize she could make it as an artist she founded the Friday Club. The club served as a commonplace for aspiring painters where they could feel comfortable discussing art. She drew her inspiration from Post-Impressionist art which was displayed on an exhibition organized by Roger Fry, one of her lovers. She imitated those bold forms and bright colours in her works. In the years to come, Bell directed her attention toward more abstract form of art.

At one point, Bell found her aesthetic principles in opposition with Victorian narrative painting. Similar to other artists, some of her work is based on personal experiences. Her illustrative work for the cover of her sister Virginia Woolf’s critically acclaimed novel, To the Lighthouse, is one fine example of such work. There was a beach in St Ives, Cornwall where they used to go in their childhood.

After her first solo Omega Workshop exhibition she became its director in 1912. The following year she painted Design for Overmantel Mural which featured a bold image of herself and Molly MacCarthy naked in Bell’s studio. It was not the only nude painting she did. Other such works include Street Corner Conversation. In her oil canvases she employed the geometrical abstraction technique. By the Estuary was her abstract artwork showcasing a landscape which was a rare image in her wartime paintings. Also it was quite distinct from her Omega Workshop paintings.

During her lifetime, Bell’s work was exhibited in London and Paris. Iceland Poppies was showcased in 1909 at the New English Art Club. Celebrated German painter, Walter Sickert, lauded her work for showing symptoms of artistic maturity. Her paintings garnered critical acclaim for their intricacies, innovative style and technique and presented tribute to design. Some of her top-tier works include Studland Beach, The Tub (1918) and Interior with Two Women (1932). Besides, Bell painted portraits of her siblings, Virgina, David and Aldous.

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