Blind Contour Drawing #10 – “Nude with poppies” 1916 Vanessa Bell

Vanessa Bell was a pivotal player in British art as one of the earliest artists to work in abstraction in the UK.

Bell was a painter, interior designer, a founding member of the controversial Bloomsbury Group and the elder sister of Virginia Woolf.

She was educated at home as was customary, in languages, mathematics, history and drawing. She studied painting at the Royal Academy in 1901.

After the deaths of her parents, she sold the family home and moved to Bloomsbury with her sister and 2 brothers. There they met with the artists, writers and intellectuals who would come to form the Bloomsbury Group.

She married Clive Bell one of the members in 1907 and they had two sons. The couple had an open marriage, Bell had affairs with art critic Roger Fry and with the painter Duncan Grant, with whom she had a daughter.

Many members of the group moved to the Sussex countryside shortly before the outbreak of WWI and settled near Firle, East Sussex, where she painted.

Her early work was fairly conventional. It was England’s first Post-Impressionist exhibition, in 1910, that proved most influential to her career. She was exposed to the works of Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso. She began to work with bright colours and bold designs and by 1914 was painting completely abstract paintings.

In 1912, she exhibited alongside Picasso and Matisse in the 2nd Post-Impressionist Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in London. Bell co-founded The Omega Workshop, an artists’ co-operative for decorative arts that operated between 1913 and 1919. Bell was an innovator in design. Their products ranged from furniture to stained glass and mosaics, as well as textiles, which Bell patterned in vibrant hues that opposed restrained Victorian designs. Bell created the original book jacket designs for the many of her sister’s novels and essays.

She had her first solo exhibition at the Omega Workshops in 1916, and another at London’s Independent Gallery in 1922. She exhibited her work internationally in Paris, Zurich and Venice.

Though privileged, Bell, like her sister, was devoted to her work, painting nearly every day except for a period of mourning following the death of her son.

Bell’s reputation as an artist has long been overshadowed by her unconventional family and romantic life. She was a radical innovator in the use of abstraction, colour and form and recently her work has begun to be recognized for her tremendous contribution to British art.


Born:May 30 1879
Died: April 7 1961

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