On a still and sunny afternoon this week, Dulwich Picture Gallery provided a perfectly serene studio escape. Presenting the first monographic retrospective exhibition of the artist Vanessa Bell, this extensive and varied collection was as enchanting as it was informative.
Prohibited from taking photography, and surrounded by a prestige that demands one does not flout any rules and remains respectfully adult, enthusiastic musings were had by all for a shortlist of favourites from this diverse curation. (as well as for the beautiful frames equally as covetable as the pieces themselves!)
One of the most celebrated painters in the Bloomsbury group she was instrumental in creating, Bell rejected the victorian ideals of ethics and artistic expression, in addition to the role of women, femininity and the institution of marriage. Known as the earth mother within her social and creative circles, she provided sanctuary both in London and Charleston house for free spirited people to come together and pursue a life of the instinctive and the unconstrained.
Still life, portraits, textile design, ceramics and photography created a narrative of Bell's artistic development and exceptional ability. Paintings of her sister and a collection of the dust covers she designed for her sisters books cast a light on the close creative relationship that existed between her and Virginia Wolf and personal photographs she took of her home life with her children, lovers and friends gave a stunning insight into the life of this pivotal Bloomsbury set personality.
Running parallel is a photographic exhibition by Patti Smith, (another lady we love) who was drawn to explore Bell's life and work through a sense of kindred values and practise. Providing an added dimension and backdrop to the life and environment of this key 20th century artist, it was a welcome reason to linger and savour everything that little bit longer.
Until next time.