‘She can always paint more pictures'
Country Life UK|September 15, 2021
The vigorous creativity of Vanessa Bell and her lover Duncan Grant’s work owes much to the countryside surrounding their farmhouse in the Sussex Downs, says Matthew Dennison
Matthew Dennison

THE winter of 1940 was unusually cold. In the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, A. J. Drummond noted that such conditions had not been experienced for 50 years. As much as she could, artist Vanessa Bell worked indoors on a painting of the barn at Charleston, the farmhouse in East Sussex she had shared with her friend and lover Duncan Grant since 1916. The uncompromising chill of this stark, apparently simple image, included in ‘Charleston: The Bloomsbury Muse’ at Philip Mould Gallery, is unusual among landscape paintings by Bell and Grant.

At Charleston that winter, Bell worked in her new attic studio. Deliberately, she cut herself off from others in the colourfully decorated house that, for more than two decades, had served as the gathering point for the artists, writers and thinkers known collectively as the Bloomsbury Group. The wintry view appealed to her state of mind.

Months earlier, her London studio at 8, Fitzroy Street had been destroyed by an incendiary bomb. Grant noted a phlegmatic quality to her response to catastrophe then. She ‘takes it very philosophically,’ he wrote, ‘and says she can always paint more pictures’. And so she did, including this painting so at odds with any of Grant’s images of Charleston’s barns, among them a picture of the threshing barn painted two years later that, despite its winter setting, glows with gashes of bold yellow sunshine like the glittering light of Old Master Nativity scenes.

By the winter of 1940, Bell had struggled with greater challenges than the destruction of her studio. Three years before, she had failed to dissuade her elder son, Julian, from travelling to Spain to support Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. He died after only a month in the country, killed by a bomb attack on the ambulance he was driving. He was 29. His mother never recovered.

She did, however, continue to work. A number of pictures in the new exhibition, beginning with a spare still life, Apples and Vinegar Bottle, painted in the autumn of 1937, postdate Julian’s death. In this instance, Bell rendered the rounded forms of the apples and quinces without her customary sensuousness: the ‘Italian’ colours of terracotta and harsh yellow convey little of the warmth of the sun and even the paint’s thick impasto lacks any tactile quality. As so often in Bell’s still-life painting, Cézanne’s shadow hovers. This bold image is nevertheless without the lusciousness of so much of her work.

One over the eight

IN about 1920, Bell and Grant collaborated on an eight-panel mural commission from John Maynard Keynes for his rooms at King’s College, Cambridge. The current exhibition reunites all eight Studies for The Muses of Arts and Sciences. As in much of their decorative work, details are sublimated to the overall design and what each figure represents is not always clear. Instead, the viewer is impressed by a statuesque quality to the figures, as well as the richness of their colouring.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

RELATED STORIES

SOUTHEASTERN MINITRUCKIN NATIONALS

THE 27TH ANNUAL EVENT ROLLS INTO NORTH CAROLINA

2 mins read
Street Trucks
October 2021

RETURN TO OFFICE, OR NOT

Employers will have to retool policies for postpandemic hybrid, remote, and in-office work

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
August 02, 2021

A Man of Every Talent

James Gunn dishes on The Suicide Squad, life, and music.

10 mins read
Innovation & Tech Today
Summer 2021

STRONG Island

Mental fortitude and physical toughness are what's helped Long Island's Arella Guirantes make it all the way to the W.

3 mins read
Slam
June - July 2021

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - CHARLESTON

Charleston, South Carolina, attracts visitors with its sophistication, pleasant weather and aesthetic beauty.

3 mins read
Global Traveler
July 2021

WITHOUT ITS ROADSTER, PORSCHE MIGHT NOT EXIST TODAY

That was the headline on a New York Times story published on January 20, 1996, detailing the German marque’s effort to turn around its finances and reinvent the way it had built cars for more than 40 years.

10+ mins read
Motor Trend
July 2021

DAYS: JAN TAKES CLAIRE HOSTAGE

After discovering that Belle and Shawn know she woke up from her coma and left the hospital on the night Charlie died, a furious Jan holds Claire at gunpoint and reveals that yes, she is the one who killed Charlie. “Jan loves to be in control and Jan thinks she’s smarter than everyone, so she’s obviously gone to great lengths to plan this murder and fake a portion of the coma,” points out her portrayer, Heather Lindell. “She is excited to finally be rid of Belle and be with Shawn, so this is kind of her moment, where everything that she’s ever been dreaming of is coming together. So then to find out that someone outsmarted her and out manipulated her? That’s the thing that makes her totally crack. That, coupled with the fact that she assumed Claire would be very, very grateful to her and Claire is anything but. Claire is still telling her, ‘I don’t want to be your friend, I don’t want you to be my stepmom,’ and Jan is confused, like, ‘Why wouldn’t you want me to be your stepmom? We’re going to be family.’ So now she’s like, ‘You know what? I’m done. I’m going to get rid of all of you to get what I want.’ ”

1 min read
Soap Opera Digest
May 31, 2021

COME WHAT MAY

Your must-have guide to what’s happening in the month ahead.

10+ mins read
Soap Opera Digest
May 03, 2021

Grant McCracken on How To Reengineer the Honor Code

IN THE NEW Honor Code: A Simple Plan for Raising Our Standards and Restoring Our Good Names (Tiller Press), anthropologist, brand consultant to the stars, and past Reason contributor Grant McCracken explores the history and use of the honor code, arguing for its relevance to our private and public lives today.

3 mins read
Reason magazine
June 2021

COOL RUNNINGS

What if advances in PC cooling change the PC beyond recognition?

6 mins read
PC Gamer US Edition
April 2021