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Exhibition: Vanessa Bell alone

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Vanessa Bell, Dulwich Picture Gallery, new exhibitionBell’s artistic development was rich and wide-ranging.

The first major monographic exhibition of the work of Vanessa Bell opened at Dulwich Picture Gallery earlier this month.

Widely acclaimed as a central figure of the Bloomsbury Group, Bell also stands on her own as a pivotal player in 20th century British art who invented a new language of visual expression forged from British and continental influences.

Her work is arranged thematically, and the exhibition aims to reveal Bell’s pioneering work in the genres of portraiture, still life and landscape. It explores her fluid movement between the fine and applied arts, focusing attention on her most distinctive period of experimentation in the 1910s.

Approximately 100 oil paintings as well as ceramics, fabrics, works on paper, photographs and related archival material will deliver Bell in full force, boldly experimenting with abstraction, colour and form while remaining true to her own distinctive way of seeing the world.

Bell’s artistic development was rich and wide-ranging.

She studied under a variety of teachers, including Arthur Cope, Henry Tonks and John Singer Sargent, but her reputation as an artist, however, has been habitually overshadowed by the complexity of her family life and romantic entanglements, often seen in a supporting role to her sister, Virginia Woolf, and as muse and confidante to her lovers, friends and fellow artists such as Roger Fry and Duncan Grant.

Born in London in 1879, in 1901 she began studying at the Royal Academy Schools. In 1907, she married fellow Bloomsbury member Clive Bell.

In 1912, alongside such notable names as Picasso and Matisse, Bell exhibited her work in the influential Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries, London, a landmark show organised by Roger Fry.

Fry, Bell and Duncan Grant co-founded The Omega Workshop, an artists’ co-operative for decorative arts that operated between 1913 and 1919. Bell had her first solo exhibition at the Omega Workshops in 1916, and another at London’s Independent Gallery in 1922. She exhibited her work internationally in exhibitions in Paris, Zurich and Venice.

This exhibition at Dulwich will present Bell for fresh consideration on her own, charting her move from the refined Impressionism of her early training to a more radical, experimental style stimulated by her many visits to Paris and by the post-Impressionist exhibitions held in London in 1910 and 1912.

Bell’s portraits are intense with bold colour, and her sitters anchored in space in adventurous ways. The genres of still life and landscape were also daringly revamped as Bell incorporated Fauvism and Cubism into her evolving vision.

One of the first artists in Britain to experiment with abstraction, in 1914, Bell soon returned to figuration, but she incorporated her strengthened understanding of composition and colour into her later work, work which featured daring new ways of seeing, and picturing, the female subject.

“Unconventional in her approach to both art and life, Bell’s art embodies many of the progressive ideas that we still are grappling with today, expressing new ideas about gender roles, sexuality, personal freedom, social and class mores and the open embrace of non-British cultures,” the exhibition’s co-curator, Sarah Milroy, said.

The exhibition runs until 4 June 2017.

For more information, click here.

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