Vanessa Bell: A Pioneer of Modern Art at Somerset House

24.06.2024
Caitlin McGarry

Vanessa Bell: A Pioneer of Modern Art at Somerset House

24.06.2024
Caitlin McGarry

Vanessa Bell: A Pioneer of Modern Art at The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House

Through the use of abstract concepts and vivid palettes, this exhibition captures Vanessa Bell’s ability to integrate fine art into domestic settings. Her trailblazing attitude is evident through three canvases, one woodcut piece and eight paper works.

Bell began her studies in 1901 at the Royal Academy under John Singer Sargent. Known for his portraits, landscapes and watercolours, Bell also practised these genres. Recognition for her work came after she and her siblings formed and hosted member meetings for the Bloomsbury Group in 1905. It was at that time that Bell began to experiment with art styles, ultimately discovering her passion for the avant-garde.

Contrary to early 1900s trends, Bell’s pieces became figurative and abstract. She created ambiguous scenes intended to incite emotion and reveal messages in a conceptual manner. This transpires in her early paintings, ‘Design for a folding screen’, ‘Adam and Eve’ and ‘A Conversation’. In her first piece, graphite, watercolour and oil paints are used to depict Adam and Eve nude and frolicking in a verdant. The simplified scene intends to capture themes of sexual freedom, flouting taboo and desire.

Bell later became known for merging fine and decorative arts when she co-founded ‘The Omega Workshops’ with Roger Fry in 1913, which incorporated progressive aesthetics into everyday object design. The exhibition demonstrates this pivotal point in her career, through a display of Bell’s signature rug designs in graphite and watercolour on woven paper. ‘The Omega Workshops’ pieces were purposely unsigned, in an attempt to preserve the beauty of selling art on its own merit.

‘Vanessa Bell’ at The Courtauld Gallery, London. Until 6 October 2024.