Vanessa Bell (1879-1961)

Watch our exhibition preview presented by co-curator Sarah Milroy:

Widely acclaimed as a central figure of the Bloomsbury Group, the modernist painter, Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) was a pivotal player in 20th century British art, inventing a new language of visual expression.

Muse to fellow artists such as Roger Fry, sister of Virginia Woolf, mastermind of the idyllic Bloomsbury life at Charleston – Bell’s reputation as an artist has long been overshadowed by her family life and romantic entanglements. A radical innovator in the use of abstraction, colour and form, Bell will be presented for fresh consideration in this, the first major exhibition of her work. Approximately 100 paintings, ceramics, fabrics and photographs arranged thematically will reveal her pioneering work in the genres of portraiture, still life and landscape and will explore her fluid movement between the fine and applied arts, focusing on her most distinctive period of experimentation in the 1910s.

Who was Vanessa Bell?

Vanessa Bell was born in London in 1879. The eldest of four children and sister to renowned writer Virginia Woolf, she was encouraged from a young age to pursue her individual talents. In 1901 she began studying at the Royal Academy Schools, under the tutelage of John Singer Sargent, amongst others.

Following the death of her parents, Vanessa and her siblings moved from their family home to Bloomsbury, where regular meetings with other artists and intellectuals lead to the formation of The Bloomsbury Group. In 1907, she married fellow Bloomsbury member Clive Bell, with whom she had two children. 

In 1912, alongside such notable names as Picasso and Matisse, Bell exhibited her work in the influential Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries, London, a landmark show organised by Roger Fry. Alongside Fry, Bell and Duncan Grant co-founded The Omega Workshop, an artists’ co-operative for decorative arts that operated between 1913 and 1919. Bell 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 exhibitions in Paris, Zurich and Venice. 

Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell & Patti Smith

8 Feb - 4 June

Throughout Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) we are also hosting a special display bringing together photographs by Bell and the American artist, writer and musician, Patti Smith (b. 1946). Learn more here >>

Related Event:

Exhibition Late: Woolf Works

9 Feb

Enjoy the show after hours and see a live performance excerpt from Wayne McGregor’s acclaimed ballet, Woolf Works, inspired by the literature of Bell’s sister, Virginia Woolf. Learn more here >>

In Association with The Charleston Trust 

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Image credits: Top carousel: Vanessa Bell, Nude with Poppies, 1916, (detail) oil on canvas, Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. © The Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett. 
Vanessa Bell, The Other Room, late 1930s, 161 x 174 cm, Private Collection, © The Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett.
Lower carousel: Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf, (detail) oil on board, © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Vanessa Bell, Self–Portrait, ca. 1915, Oil on canvas laid on panel, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund. 5050 - B1982.16.2 © The Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett . 
Vanessa Bell at Durbins, 1911, (detail), Unknown. Presented by Angelica Garnett, 1981 and 1988-92. Part of the Vanessa Bell Collection. ©Tate Archive, London 2016.
Vanessa Bell’s library, Duncan Bell’s painting of Vanessa Bell in her mother’s dress, 2006, (detail) © Patti Smith. Courtesy the artist and Robert Miller Gallery. Brandon Camp, 1913. Photographs by Vanessa Bell and others, in Vanessa Bell’s album, (detail) Tate (TGA 9020/3) © Tate Archive, London 2016.

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Event details

Start date
8 February 2017
End date
4 June 2017
10am - 5pm, Tuesday - Sunday (Closed Mondays except Bank Holidays)
£14 Adult; £13 Senior Citizens; £7 Concessions (students, disabled, ES40, Art Fund & Museums Association Members); FREE: Children, Friends