The subject of this portrait is a professional model, and, as Bell’s portraits were usually of family and friends, it is speculated that this was painted as an exercise. Bell uses broad, visible brushstrokes in rich, warm colours to give the painting a tactile feel, and the viewpoint and colours used are entirely naturalistic.
Date of work
Original: Oil paint on canvas 81.3 x 65.4 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.