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Left: “Virginia Woolf”, c.1912 (©National Portrait Gallery London), right: “Self-Portrait”, c.1915 (©The Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett), both by Vanessa Bell

When it comes to the Bloomsbury Group, it is impossible to separate their lives from their art. Just over a century after her first solo exhibition, the long overdue and much anticipated major retrospective of Vanessa Bell’s work currently on display at the Dulwich Picture Gallery proves her individual worth as an artist, and not merely as a cog in the Bloomsbury wheel. 

One would be hard pressed ever to describe Vanessa Bell as avant-garde, or as a pioneer. Instead there remains a reassuring element of calm domesticity to her work; it is unassuming yet spectacularly vibrant, much like the artist herself.

Born in 1879, the older sister of Virginia Woolf was forced by their father Sir Leslie Stephen to adopt a maternal and in some respects wifely role after the death of their mother Julia in 1895. Though she never pretended to be interested in or concerned with the female suffrage movement, unlike her sister, Vanessa realised that her artistic talent could be utilised as means of escaping the stifling atmosphere of the family home in Hyde Park Gate and embracing a less conventional way of life. She began her studies at the Royal Academy Schools in 1901 and went on to the Slade School of Art in Bloomsbury.

“Wallflowers” (c.1950) (© Christie’s Images) and "Street Corner Conversation” (c.1913) (© The Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett)
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