This work follows in the tradition of several French painters – notably Degas, Matisse and Bonnard – of painting women in the act of their toilette. Unusually large in scale for Bell, she originally intended to hang it on the wall of the garden room at the Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, where Bell then lived with her lover Duncan Grant and David Garnett. After several modifications (the figure was semi-clothed, at first, then painted over), Bell decided not to hang the painting, instead keeping it folded up. It was not rediscovered until the 1970s, when there was a renewed interest in the work of the Bloomsbury Group.
Date of work
Original: Oil paint and gouache on canvas 180.3 x 166.4 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.