- Place made
- Brandon, near Thetford, England
- oil on board
- 37.5 x 52.4 cm
- Credit line
- James and Diana Ramsay Fund 2020
- Accession number
- Signature and date
- not signed. dated verso.
- Paul Roche, long-term companion of Duncan Grant, from whom bought by previous owner; Christies Modern British Art Sale 20 November 2018, lot 180, bought by Philip Mould Galleries, London; from whom acquired December 2020.
- Media category
- Collection area
- British paintings
- © Estate of Vanessa Bell courtesy of Henrietta Garnett
This bold geometric and abstracted painting is one of a small number of works painted by Vanessa Bell in August 1913 at a summer camp at Brandon on the Norfolk-Suffolk border near Thetford. The camp lasted twelve days and there were several tents, all pitched at the edge of a field bordered by trees. There was an impressive turnout and attendees included Brynhild, Margery, Noel and Daphne – daughters of Sir Sydney Olivier, Adrian Stephens, Molly MacCarthy, Ka Cox and Gerald Shove as well as several key members of the Bloomsbury Group – a collective of like-minded intellectuals, artists, writers and philosophers united in their belief in art and its relevance in modern life. Vanessa Bell was joined by her husband Clive along with Maynard Keynes, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry.
Seated figure represents Bell at the height of her artistic experimentation and confidence. Her bold application of paint leaves great swathes of empty canvas imbuing the work with a dynamic sketchy quality. Painted just prior to the establishment of the Omega workshops, this work is the predecessor to a major Omega workshops screen, Bathers in a landscape, which is now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum London; further highlighting the importance of this work within Bell’s oeuvre.
Members of the Bloomsbury Group were notorious for their complex interpersonal relationships and bohemian lifestyles, to the extent that the value of their artistic achievements was on occasions overshadowed by the scandals generated by their personal liaisons and intrigues. Early twentieth century British painting is often overlooked and perceived as more conservative than that of their Parisian colleagues, yet the work of Bell and other members of this group undeniably highlight the avant garde nature of artistic expression in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century.
Vanessa Bell (nee Stephens) was born into a family of artists and intellectuals in late nineteenth century London. Her great-aunt was renowned photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and her mother, Julia Prinsep was a favourite model of the members of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. Following the death of her parents Vanessa, her sister Virginia (later Woolf) and brothers Thoby and Adrian moved to Gordon Square in Bloomsbury. There they formed a circle of artists, writers and intellectuals who held meetings each Thursday.
Today Bell is the most highly regarded member of this important Modern British art cohort known as the Bloomsbury Group. Other members include Bell's husband art critic Clive Bell, her sister and celebrated writer Virginia Woolf, and artists Duncan Grant and Roger Fry amongst others. During the First World War, Bell and Duncan Grant relocated to Charleston Farm in Sussex where she spent the rest of her life. She and Grant turned the humble farmhouse into an eclectic artistic interior and today the house is open to the public as a museum.
Bell, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant also founded the Omega Workshops in order to break down the barriers between art and design and bring high-quality artist-made furnishings into British homes.
[Exhibition Catalogue] Milroy, Sarah & Dejardin, Ian A. 2017. Vanessa Bell.
[Book] Hitchmough, Wendy. 2020. The Bloomsbury Look.
[Journal] AGSA Magazine.