Archive JourneysBloomsbury

TimelineBiographiesBloomsbury GroupArtquizbFurther Information
Vanessa BellRoger FryDuncan GrantWorking TogetherOmega Workshops

A return to naturalism

After the First World War Bell moved back to London, exhibiting regularly with the Friday Club, the New English Art Club and, from 1919, the London Group. In the 1920s she and Duncan frequently visited Italy, and St Tropez and Cassis in France, where they enjoyed the quality of the light and often painted the same scenes and subjects.

During this period, Bell reverted to a more naturalistic style of painting, her brushwork became tighter and her use of colour less flamboyant. In the following extract from a letter to Roger Fry from the early 1920s she discusses how her use of colour changed.

I think Duncan and I have changed extraordinarily over the past 10 years or so I hope for the better. But also it seems to me there was a great deal of excitement about colour then - 7 to 10 years ago - which has perhaps rather quieted down now I suppose as a result of trying to change everything into colour... I wonder now whether we couldn't get more of that sort of intensity of colour without losing solidity of objects and space.

Letter from Vanessa Bell to Roger Fry, September 19 1923

Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant at Cassis, 1928
Vanessa Bell and Duncan
Grant at Cassis, 1928

© Tate Archive, 2003
Vanessa Bell, Interior With Table, 1921 The 1920s and 1930s saw Bell achieve relative success. In 1922 she had her first major solo exhibition of 27 works at the Independent Gallery. She had three further solo exhibitions, one of them at the Cooling Galleries with a catalogue introduction written by her sister:

Vanessa Bell, Interior With Table, 1921
© Tate, London 2002

But Mrs. Bell has a certain reputation it cannot be denied... She is reported (one has read it in the newspapers) to be "the most considerable painter of her own sex now alive"... whatever the phrase may mean, it must mean that her pictures stand for something, are something and will be something which we will disregard at our peril. As soon not go to see them as shut the window when the nightingale is singing.

Virginia Woolf, Recent Paintings by Vanessa Bell, 1930, Cooling Gallery

Bell continued to paint portraits, landscapes and interiors for the rest of her life but gradually she lost her place as an artist of the avant-garde, as new movements like Surrealism and Unit One which had no appeal for her emerged.

Catalogue for Cooling Gallery Exhibition, 1930
© Tate Archive, 2003

Catalogue for Cooling Gallery Exhibition, 1930