Artist biography

Vanessa Bell inherited a High Victorian attitude to art against which she was to react. Her Iceland Poppies exhibited at the New English Art Club in the summer of 1909, was praised by Sickert and marks her artistic maturity. Its quiet, restrained naturalism was, however, to be exploded a year later by her experience of Post-Impressionism.

Before this she and her sister, later famous as the writer Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), had with their brother Thoby's Cambridge friends formed the circle known as Bloomsbury. Vanessa had also married Clive Bell, by whom she had two sons. The entry of Roger Fry into Bloomsbury in 1910 radically altered Vanessa Bell's life and art. Her painting, boldly simplified, was now shorn of all detail and intrusive sentiment. Her willingness to experiment placed her in the forefront of the avant-garde, and she was one of the first in England to essay a non-representational style. She was closely involved in the early stages of the Omega Workshops and retained a lifelong interest in decorative schemes, bringing pattern and colour into everyday domestic surroundings.

Like other artists of her generation she reverted to a more naturalistic style after World War I. She had by then begun her close association with Duncan Grant. Both exhibited regularly with the London Group and the London Artists' Association.

Her decorative work at its best is outstanding in its unforced simplicity. This is seen especially in her book-jacket designs for the Hogarth Press, which helped establish its distinctive house-style.

R. Shone: Bloomsbury Portraits: Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and their Circle (Oxford, 1976) [with sel. bibliog. and good illus.]
I. Anscombe: Omega and After: Bloomsbury and the Decorative Arts (New York, 1981) [with bibliog. and good illus.]
F. Spalding: Vanessa Bell (London, 1983) [with sel. bibliog. and illus.]


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