Dating from 1930, this slim pamphlet accompanied a solo exhibition of Vanessa Bell’s artwork in Mayfair, London. Like her sister Virginia Woolf, who supplies an introduction to the exhibition, Bell was a central figure within the Bloomsbury Group (so called after the area of London in which this circle of artists and writers lived and worked).
Bell exhibited regularly with the show’s organisers, The London Artist’s Association. The exhibition’s funders included the economist and Bloomsbury intellectual John Maynard Keynes, and renowned art collector Samuel Courtauld.
From around 1910 until the end of World War One, Bell embraced artistic experimentation and rebelled against the Victorian values into which she had been born. Influenced by Post-Impressionism and major European artists such as Matisse and Picasso, Bell pushed the boundaries of British art. She applied vivid colour and bold, simplified forms to her paintings and designs. Her works realised a key principle of modernism: the emphasis of form over content. They are, Woolf suggests, pure expression: ‘They give us an emotion. They offer a puzzle’.
Bell is recognised as one of the first British artists to paint non-representational subjects. Here, Woolf highlights Bell’s innovation, writing, ‘Mrs. Bell has a certain reputation it cannot be denied... She is reported (one has read it in the newspapers) to be “the most considerable painter of her own sex now alive”’.
After World War One Bell developed a style that, although more naturalistic, was strongly informed by her avant garde period. This exhibition displays Bell’s post-war work, featuring still lifes, portraits and French landscapes.
‘That a woman should hold a show of pictures in Bond Street…is not usual’: Woolf opens the introduction with a bold statement about gender and art in the early 20th century. The novelist confronts the limitations imposed upon women’s creative potential by a society that promotes constraining ‘feminine’ values such as innocence and domesticity. In particular, Woolf addresses the recent incidents of art schools banning women from drawing from live nude models on moral grounds. Woolf thus highlights the radical aspect of Bell’s art, which often featured nude subjects.
 Frances Spalding, ‘Bell, Vanessa’, Grove Art Online, Oxford Art Online (Oxford University Press) <http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T007587> [accessed 3 August 2015].