When you read the name Vanessa Bell, the mind tends to wander to the Bloomsbury Group. From there, an array of questions spring to mind; “Wasn’t she the wife of Clive Bell?”, “Wasn’t her sister Virginia Woolf?”, and the somewhat inevitable Bloomsbury-association question; “Who was she sleeping with??”
Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) was a pioneering British artist in her own right: her work has, however, often been overshadowed by the familial and romantic entanglements that are entailed by membership to one of the 20th century’s iconic literary enclaves.
Still, from 8th February, the bucolic Dulwich Picture Gallery will attempt to shine a light on the work of this pivotal player in 20th Century art by hosting the first exhibition focusing solely on her work.
Bell’s bold and innovative artworks were an active attempt at challenging ideas of gender roles, sexuality and personal freedom. In particular, her progressive art brought into question the portrayal and perceptions of the female – depictions that are as necessary and relevant today as they were a century ago.
The exhibition, which includes a range of landscapes, portraits, still life works, photographs and textile designs, will track the unconventional life and art of Vanessa Bell.
It will also display a range of archival material that will showcase the attitudes and artistic developments of this period. This is an attempt to give a voice a woman who was much more than “somebodies wife” or “somebodies mistress.” Bell is one of the unsung heroes of British art, and the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s monographic exhibition of her work is definitely not one to be missed.
Even better, an accompanying show, Legacy, is the first photography display bringing together work by Bell and the American musician, writer and artist, Patti Smith.