Dame Ethel Walker

Vanessa

1937

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 610 x 508 mm
frame: 780 x 675 x 106 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1939
Reference
N05038

Display caption

Vanessa Bell, who is shown in this portrait, was the sister of the writer Virginia Woolf and one of the founders of the circle known as Bloomsbury. Here she is placed in a domestic interior, possibly at Charleston in Sussex. Her gaze is directed away from the viewer, suggesting that we are intruding into her private space.

Bell’s willingness to experiment placed her in the forefront of the avant-garde. By contrast Walker worked in a more traditional style mainly producing portraits, flower pieces and seascapes. 

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

N05038 VANESSA 1937

Not inscribed.
Canvas, 24×20 (61×50·5).
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1939.
Coll: Purchased by the C.A.S. from the artist through the Leicester Galleries 1937.
Exh: Summer Exhibition, Leicester Galleries, August 1937 (82); British Council, Contemporary British Art, New York World's Fair, 1939 (147 and repr.), Canadian tour, Boston and Chicago, 1939–40 (147), and Toledo, 1942 (111, repr. p.64); Ethel Walker, Frances Hodgkins, Gwen John, Tate Gallery, May–June 1952 (12).
Repr: Hesketh Hubbard, A Hundred Years of British Painting 1851–1951, 1951, pl.104; Sir John Rothenstein, British Art since 1900, 1962, pl.13.

The sitter is the artist Vanessa Bell (1879–1961), wife of Clive Bell. In a letter to Miss Grace English, dated 24 February 1937, the artist wrote; ‘I have finished without spoiling either by doing so, the two portraits of Margaret Wade [?] and of Vanessa.’ It was the practice of Ethel Walker to finish a portrait at one, often very long, sitting and she rarely worked upon a picture afterwards. A note in Miss English's MS. reads ‘Vanessa Bell 1935 after dinner’, but the significance or accuracy of this remark is difficult to ascertain. It could possible mean that the portrait was begun in 1935 and then reworked in 1937.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II