Catalogue entry

Vanessa Bell 1879–1961

T01277 Frederick and Jessie Etchells Painting 1912

Not inscribed, but monogram ‘VB’ stamped at bottom left.
Oil on plywood, mounted on Dalerboard, 20¿ x 20¿ (51 x 53).
Purchased from the d’Offay Couper Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1971.
Coll: Mrs Angelica Garnett, daughter of the artist.

Frederick Etchells the painter (and later architect) was born in 1886; he exhibited at the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition 1912, and in 1913 worked briefly at Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops before accompanying Wyndham Lewis when Lewis left and founded the Rebel Art Centre in the same year. His sister Jessie (later Mrs David Leacock) was born in 1893 and died in 1933, and was also a painter.

T01277 shows Frederick and Jessie Etchells painting in a room with doors opening to an outer space beyond. Early in 1912, Vanessa Bell’s sister Virginia Woolf (then Virginia Stephen) took a lease of Asheham House near Lewes. The house is described (and a photograph of it is reproduced opposite p. 97) in Leonard Woolf, Beginning Again, 1964, pp.55–61. Duncan Grant wrote (letter of 29 April 1971): ‘The picture was undoubtedly painted at Asheham… The windows on the ground floor at Asheham were all French windows reaching to the ground… the view out of the window would have been a lawn backed by a flint wall with trees showing above. I cannot remember a front door—we used any [French window] to get in or out... I think that Vanessa considered the picture complete as it is. As for leaving facial features undefined, certainly about this period she purposely avoided very often any definition…’

In a letter of 10 April 1971, Frederick Etchells’s recollection of the setting of this picture was consistent with Duncan Grant’s account. He added ‘It is startling to come across so authentic a representation of oneself at a so much younger period, and Jessie is equally true to one’s recollection…’

Mrs Quentin Bell wrote (8 May 1971) that it appeared from correspondence that Frederick and Jessie Etchells stayed at Asheham from 28 August to 4 September 1912, while the house was being used by Vanessa Bell. On 29 August 1912 Vanessa Bell wrote from Asheham to Leonard Woolf: ‘The Etchells pair are here . . . plenty of painting goes on…’ On 18 September 1912 she wrote from Asheham to Margery Snowden: ‘we have had a series of visitors ever since [August 30th] ... we had Etchells and his sister here first... I have done a good deal of painting here. It has been quite easy as other people have generally been painting too …’ Mrs Quentin Bell sent a print of a photograph showing Frederick and Jerome Etchells, apparently wearing the clothes represented in T01277, standing in the garden at Asheham with Julian Bell.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.