Vanessa Bell
Bedroom, Gordon Square

Vanessa Bell, Britain, 1879 - 1961, Bedroom, Gordon Square, 1912, Bloomsbury, London, oil on canvas, 56.3 x 46.2 cm; South Australian Government Grant 1984, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, © Estate of Vanessa Bell courtesy of Henrietta Garnett.

About this work of art

Vanessa Bell and her sister writer Virginia Woolf were founding members of the Bloomsbury Group, an important artistic, literary and intellectual society based in Bloomsbury, London, in the early twentieth century. The Bloomsbury Group flourished at a time when much of the British art scene was considered conservative. Bell and other members of the group thoroughly embraced modernism and pursued a an artistic vision distinct from that of Paris, which at the time was considered the artistic centre of the world. Although she had been traditionally trained in the Royal Academy Schools, Bell rejected this conservatism and instead followed her own artistic path.

This work depicts an interior in Bell’s home at 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, where she and her sister had relocated following the deaths of their mother in 1896 and father in 1904. A study in colour and form, Bell’s striking and unconventional nude embraces abstraction, with its swathes of colour outlined with bold black lines. Drawing inspiration from the interiors and domestic portraits favoured by the impressionists and post-impressionists, Bell presents us with what is likely a self-portrait in her own bedroom, although  the figure is far from representational, with neither a face nor hands and feet. Whereas a nude portrait might usually invite a sense of voyeurism from the viewer, this painting appears to represent a moment of quiet contemplation. Bell’s figure is dwarfed by the bold vertical lines of the interior, and the set of her shoulders and lack of personal adornment suggest a sense of isolation and disconnection.  Her emotions laid bare, Bell’s nude figure presents a psychological portrait as much as a physical one.

Audio description of the work of art

Bedroom, Gordon Square by British artist Vanessa Bell. This is an oil on canvas painting, completed in 1912. It is 56cm high and 46cm wide. Bell worked as a pattern designer of textiles and was a founding member of the Bloomsbury group, comprising English creatives who believed in the importance of art. "They lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles" – Dorothy Parker.

In Bedroom, Gordon Square, a woman sits naked on the edge of a bed. On the bed is a dark blanket and its pale sheets are drawn back. The painting is created in a semi-abstract style with few details, and blocks of colour. She has her feet on the floor, legs together with her toes touching a rectangular, teal rug. The woman’s body language and lack of features suggest she is caught in a moment of reflection. Her dark hair is worn long. Her shoulders are accentuated in shaggy black strokes. Varying shades of pink merge from the woman’s head, arms, body, and legs into a single form.

Afternoon light is entering the room from a large window behind her. A red, 2-panel room divider obscures some of the tall window and its glass panels are inset into the apartment’s thick, off-white walls. The window is split into four, two smaller square panes of glass at the top and twin, narrow, panes beneath. These are loosely curtained in a pale cotton, catching on a slight breeze. Outside is a peaked, pink rooftop against a light blue sky.

Next to the window, in the corner of the room is a tall, brown closet. A simple, featureless box. On top of the closet is a buttermilk-yellow hatbox and a smaller light pink box. Next to the wardrobe is a fireplace, cut off by the edge of the painting, in front of it, a dark square of rug extending into the room and the arms of a white club lounge chair, angled towards the woman.

Afternoon light spills into the room from the window, as though the day is ending. It washes the pale floor in an apricot hue. Yellow light from the window forms a bright square on the teal rug between the club chair and the woman’s feet.