Bell painted this portrait of Helen Dudley at fellow Bloomsbury Group member Roger Fry’s house in Guildford. At the time of painting, Bell was working with Fry at the design workshop he founded in 1913, Omega Workshops, making mosaics and pottery. Her sitter was a poet and the daughter of a wealthy American gynaecologist; Helen Dudley and her sister were well-known in Chicago’s literary society for their wit. Dudley met the philosopher Bertrand Russell at Harvard, Massachusetts, and the two had a brief affair, for which Dudley moved to England.
Original: Oil paint on canvas 72.4 x 61 cm © Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy Henrietta Garnett
Vanessa Bell (1879 – 1961) was a founding member of the Bloomsbury Group, and the sister of Virginia Woolf. She studied at Sir Arthur Cope’s art school and the Royal Academy. In 1907 she married the art critic Clive Bell and had three children. The couple had an open marriage, and Bell had several affairs, most notably with the painter Duncan Grant, who fathered one of her children, and whom she is buried near in the Firle Parish Churchyard. She was one of the first British artists to experiment with abstraction, and was also a talented interior designer.