Sunday, January 13, 2013

Bells and Grants

Vanessa Bell "Frederick and Jessie Etchells Painting"  1912  The Tate Gallery

Vanessa Bell (1879–1961) was an English artist descended from an eccentric but intellectually distinguished family. Her father was Leslie Stephen, a famous writer and mountain-climber, and her sister was the writer Virginia Woolf. Both sisters were tutored extensively at home, although Bell did take some classes at Sir Arthur Cope's private art school and at the Royal Academy in London. Famous in her youth for her striking beauty, Bell married art critic Clive Bell in 1907, with whom she had two sons.  The Bells and Woolfs maintained homes in the Sussex countryside as well as their homes in London. Charleston House, the farmhouse which Bell rented from 1916 onwards, became the country meeting place for the painters, writers and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group.

Jessie Etchells (1892-1933) and her brother Frederick Etchells (1886-1973) came for a visit to Asheham House, Virginia Woolf's weekend house near Charleston, in the summer of 1912. Bell found Jessie agreeable, but did not take to Frederick, although none of this emotional strain shows in the painting.  This piece exhibits the deliberate lack of detail that is characteristic of Bell's work in this period.

Duncan Grant "Vanessa Bell Painting"  1915
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
The artist and designer Duncan Grant (1885-1978) was also a member of the Bloomsbury Group. Despite his openly declared homosexuality, he and Bell developed a domestic partnership. The couple had a daughter together in 1918 and lived and worked together intermittently for the rest of their lives.

Duncan Grant "Vanessa Bell Painting at La Souco"  1960 Charleston House
This is one of the last paintings of Bell, by Grant. It was painted at "La Souco" a villa owned by friends in Cap Martin, France. Bell died the following year at age eighty-one.

~Many thanks to John Philip Hagen for sending me each of these three images~


Kate Stone said...

Vanessa was a stunning beauty. It's always fascinating to me when creativity and the arts seem to run in families.

Emilie said...

As a "fabric" person the portrait of the Etchells appeals for color and pattern. I almost see it as inspiration for a pieced quilt.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Wow, a Vanessa Bell quilt! That sounds amazing! Yes, the whole family is simply astonishing. The most engrossing biography I've read on the subject of the stunning Stephen sisters is "A Very Close Conspiracy" by Jane Dunn. Highly recommend it!

Kristin said...

Love these! Wrote my MA thesis on Vanessa and Virginia--which allowed me to spend lots of time reading their letters to one another and also biographies and such of their whole circle--

Alexandra Tyng said...

What a fascinating story! I first heard about Virginia and Vanessa years ago, when I discovered Virginia Woolf's books, but I'd forgotten most of Vanessa's story and I don't recall ever seeing her paintings. Thank you for this intriguing post!