Vanessa Bell

Annunciation by Vanessa Bell

Dates: b.1879 - d.1961

Gender: Female

Nationality: British

Vanessa Bell was the daughter of the literary critic and scholar Leslie Stephen and his second wife Julia Duckworth. Bell was largely educated at home together with her sister Virginia (later Virginia Woolf) and her two half brothers. Read more…

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Biography:

Vanessa Bell was the daughter of the literary critic and scholar Leslie Stephen and his second wife Julia Duckworth. Bell was largely educated at home together with her sister Virginia (later Virginia Woolf) and her two half brothers. Her interest in art was encouraged and she received drawing lessons from Ebenezer Crook before entering Sir Arthur Cope’s art school in 1896, and the Royal Academy in 1901. After the death of her mother in 1895 Bell took on the role of family housekeeper, whilst continuing to develop her artistic interests. On the death of her father in 1905, Bell and her siblings moved to Bloomsbury, London. They socialised with other young artists, writers and intellectuals including Maynard Keynes and Lytton Strachey. Their circle of friends became known collectively as the Bloomsbury Group.

Bell’s early work was strongly influenced by Sargent and Whistler and is characterised by a restrained naturalism. In 1909 she exhibited at the New English Art Club, alongside artists including Augustus John and Orpen. In 1905 Vanessa married the art critic Clive Bell and had two sons. Roger Fry’s introduction to the Bloomsbury circle in 1910 prompted a dramatic change in Bell’s artistic style. Influenced by artists such as Brasque and Picasso she became increasingly willing to experiment both with her technique and use of colour. Works from this period, such as Studland Beach, are dramatically simplified and emphasise form over content in the modernist style.  She was one of the first British artists to paint in an abstract style, which placed her at the front of the avant-garde movement.

After WW1 Bell returned to a more naturalistic style. Working closely with her lover Duncan Grant, she contributed to the Omega workshop and exhibited with the London Artists’ Association and the London Group.