Artists, Painters

Who was Vanessa Bell?

Vanessa Bell was an English painter and interior designer. She was also a member of the Bloomsbury Group (a group of associated intellectuals, writers and artists of early 20th century in England). But she is best known by being the older sister of famous writer Virginia Woolf. But they couldn’t be more different: Virginia was witty, temperamental, outspoken while Vanessa was calm and reasonable.

Until she was fifteen indeed, she was outwardly sober and austere, the most trustworthy, and always the eldest.”

Virginia Woolf

She was raised in an intellectual, upper-middle-class home. Her parents frequently opened the doors of their house to leading thinker of the time. She was educated at home in languages, maths, history and drawing until 1896 when she attended the school. When her father died in 1904, Vanessa Bell felt free to paint.

Abstract Painting, 1914 (Photo credit: Wikiart)

In 1906, two years later her father’s death, she started to see herself as an artist. At the beginning her work was influenced by post-impressionist art, especially the bright colours and the bold forms, because of the exhibition organised by Roger Fry.

Here was a sudden pointing to a possible path, a sudden liberation and encouragement to feel for oneself,” she wrote after the show. “Perhaps no one but a painter can understand it and perhaps no one but a painter of a certain age. But it was as if one might say things one had always felt instead of trying to say things that other people told one to feel.”


Then she started a period of experimentation, in her still lifes and landscapes we can see the influence of Fauvism and Cubism. In other works, the influence of pure abstract composition and overlaid geometric shapes. Although she returned to figuration by 1915, the impact of all theses experimentations is seen in the innovative use of colour and in the compositions of her late portraits.

Mrs St John Hutchinson, 1915 (Photo credit: Wikiart)

She was also an innovator designer, she was the co-director of Omega Workshops (their modernist products included furniture, stained glass, textiles, mosaics, etc.). She was the creator of the original book jacket designs for many of her sister’s books.

But, even with all these achievements, Vanessa Bell remains unknown today, or only remembered as Virginia Woolf’s sister.

May be after this post someone can remember Virginia Woolf as Vanessa Bell’s sister.