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.

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.