Illustrated companion

An outstanding example of Vanessa Bell's 'Fauve' manner, and a highly characteristic Bloomsbury portrait in that artist and sitter were well known to each other, Vanessa Bell and her husband Clive being part of the St John Hutchinsons' wide circle of friendship and acquaintance in the world of arts and letters. For example, also in the collection of the Tate Gallery is a group portrait by another painter they knew well, Henry Tonks, showing them among a gathering of the friends of the distinguished author and modern art critic George Moore, at his home in the Vale, Chelsea. This painting is one of four portraits of Mary St John Hutchinson, two by Vanessa Bell and two by Duncan Grant, all apparently done at the same time, in three days of sittings on the 5th, 9th and 11th of February 1915, at the Hutchinson's London home. In a letter to Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell wrote 'on Friday we painted Mary. Duncan got very desperate and began his again which I think I ought to have done too but I didn't. It is a frightfully difficult arrangement for I'm bang in front of her and everything is very straight and simple and very delicate colour.' It seems likely that it is the Tate Gallery version of the portrait to which she is referring since it is certainly remarkable for its beautiful colour scheme of delicate pink and near-complementary acid yellow-green. Characteristic Fauve touches also, are the blue-green shadows on the cheek-bone and beneath the lower lip of the full mouth, which is sensuously realised in a darker, more luscious pink. The sharp blue eyes and alert posture bring the sitter very much to life, and while this picture is a striking work of art in terms of its abstract qualities of colour and composition, its interest stems equally from its vivid evocation of a personality and mood.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.131