Left: Vanessa Bell, 1902. Right: Virginia Woolf, 1902. Images via Wikimedia Commons.
From the Victorian Era to Modernity
Born in Victorian-era London, Vanessa Bell née Stephen was raised in an intellectual, upper-middle-class household that frequently opened its doors to leading thinkers of the time. Her father was an accomplished man of letters; her mother, Julia, was a famous beauty and
Left: Vanessa Bell, Design for Omega Workshops Fabric, 1913. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund. Right: Vanessa Bell, On the Steps of Santa Maria Salute, Venice, 1948. Images © The Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett.
Beyond Fine Art
From that moment, Bell embarked upon a period of experimentation, incorporating the lessons of
Left: Vanessa Bell, Self –Portrait, ca. 1915. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund. © The Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett. Right: Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf. © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Her Complicated Legacy
Even with these diverse achievements, Bell remains underknown as an artist. Sarah Milroy, the curator behind the upcoming Dulwich Picture Gallery show, points to the tendency of Bell’s personal life to eclipse her art. “Because of her complex romantic entanglements, her known genius for hospitality and homemaking, her extraordinary physical beauty, and her natural tendency toward self deprecation, she has been overlooked as an also-ran to the painter Duncan Grant, and as a hanger-on to Fry and to her husband, Clive Bell. She has been presumed to have been dependant on their ideas about art,” Milroy said in an email interview. “The truth is that these artists and writers made their discoveries together, with Bell very much at the center of the discussions. That oversight, I suspect, has been quite simply the product of sexism, both in her own time and in our own.”
Left: Vanessa Bell, The Other Room, late 1930s. Right: Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, 1925. Book with dust jacket designed by Vanessa Bell. Collection of the Victoria University Library, Toronto. Published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf at The Hogarth Press, 1925. Images © The Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett.