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“Design for Omega Workshops Fabric” (1913); “On the Steps of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice” (1948) (© The Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett)

After the death of their father in 1904, the Stephen sisters moved to Bloomsbury, and in 1905 Vanessa founded the Friday Club, originally as an exhibiting society. She and her friends from the Slade would meet at her home in Gordon Square to discuss their ideas about contemporary artistic movements. It was at one of these meetings in 1906 that she was first introduced to Duncan Grant by Pippa Strachey.

Following her marriage to Clive Bell in 1907 and the birth of her sons Julian and Quentin in 1908 and 1910, Vanessa embarked upon a brief affair with her fellow Bloomsbury artist Roger Fry; the pair would continue to collaborate until Fry’s death in 1934. Their most notable joint achievement was the establishment of the Omega Workshops in 1913. Heavily influenced by Post-Impressionism, the workshops provided another outlet for Bell’s fertile imagination, and she focused upon developing her interest in textiles and interior design. After the Hogarth Press was founded in 1917, the Omega Workshops were responsible for the striking covers of Virginia Woolf’s books. Examples of these fabrics and dust jackets are an integral part of the exhibition, and allow for a more three-dimensional appreciation of Bell, as well as the Bloomsbury belief that even the most mundane objects could be endowed with aesthetic value.

“Landscape with Haystack, Asheham” (1912) (© The Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy of Henrietta Garnett)

The Omega Workshops permitted Bell to put on her first solo exhibition in 1916, and six years later, her second was held at London’s Independent Gallery. The year was also significant for Bell as it saw her move from London to Charleston, a farmhouse in Sussex. By this time, Vanessa and her husband were leading increasingly separate lives, and along with her children, she was accompanied by Duncan Grant and David Garnett, who had both been ordered to do farmwork after refusing to be conscripted. Bell and Grant would decorate the entire house in their own inimitable style and it would become a lasting monument to the ethos of Bloomsbury, and to their unique and indefinable relationship.

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