Here, Bell paints a portrait using the some of the bright colours and bold techniques employed by the Fauvists, and may show the influence of one of her favourite artists, Matisse. The portrait’s sitter is Mary Hutchinson, a short-story author and fellow member of the Bloomsbury Group. Vanessa and Clive Bell’s was an open marriage, and Hutchinson was in a long-term relationship with Clive from 1914-1927. Whether or not this portrait is deliberately unflattering is unknown, but when it was exhibited Bell wrote ‘It’s perfectly hideous...and yet quite recognisable’.
Mrs St John Hutchinson
Date of work
Original: Oil paint on board 73.7 x 57.8 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.