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Vanessa Bell at The Royal West England Academy

Until 9 September, Flowers, a painting by Vanessa Bell is on view as part of the exhibition, In Relation: Nine Couples who Transformed Modern British Art, at The Royal West England Academy in Bristol. Bringing together the work of nine artist couples, including Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, the exhibition explores how romantic partnerships have inspired experimentation and collaboration and left their mark on British art.

Flowers by Vanessa Bell

© Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy Henrietta Garnett

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The flowers and foliage in this traditional still life by Vanessa Bell look as though they have been clipped from the garden and have spent a day or two already in the painted vase in which they are displayed. The thin gossamer-like petals of the vibrant red poppy droop, ready to fall. The arrangement sits on a small covered table, behind which part of a curtain is shown, and part of a wall or screen on which an arm is painted. Bell achieves a harmonious balance between the warm colours of the flowers and those of the surrounding interior.

Still life and flower paintings were one of several enduring themes of Bell’s painting career. At present, the exact date of Flowers is unknown. The decorative glazing of the vase, and the glimpse of the painted arm behind the flowers, is stylistically similar to some of Bell’s designs for The Omega Workshops. In 1913, Bell and the British artist and critic, Roger Fry, established the Omega, an avant-garde design company that produced decorative and applied arts, including furniture, pottery and fabrics, until its closure in 1919.

Alternatively, Bell may have painted this work during the inter-war years, when she is known to have focused on still life, landscapes and portraiture. Charleston, the Sussex farmhouse Bell later shared with fellow artist and companion, Duncan Grant, is a prime example of an Omega-decorated house, and it may be that the setting for this painting was Charleston or possibly another interior commissioned privately from Bell and Grant.

Vanessa Bell was one of the leading figures in the Bloomsbury Group of artists, writers and intellectuals, who met in London from the early years of the twentieth century to the late 1930s. The Group was characterised by the relationships between its members as much as by any shared philosophy or artistic doctrine. Among the other members of the Group were Vanessa’s husband, Clive Bell, with whom she had two children, Julian and Quentin, and her sister, Virginia Woolf. Roger Fry joined in 1910, shifting the focus of the Group from literature and philosophy to the visual arts. Duncan Grant was introduced to the Group through his cousin, the critic Lytton Strachey, and remains closely associated with Bell, through both their shared artistic concerns and their personal relationship; the two artists were companions for much of their lives and had a child, Angelica, together.

Bell and Grant were prominent members of the artistic avant-garde in Britain during the second decade of the twentieth century. Fry’s exhibitions of Post-Impressionist art in London in 1910 and 1912, in which works by Cézanne, Picasso, Van Gogh and Gauguin were shown, made a great impact on Bell, Grant and other artists. Around the middle of the decade, Bell and Grant were among the first British artists to experiment with abstraction in painting.

Further Information

In Relation: Nine Couples who Transformed Modern British Art
The Royal West England Academy
Queen’s Road
Clifton
Bristol, BS8 1PX

Telephone: +44 (0)117 973 5129
Email: info@rwa.org.uk

 

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