Biography (Magill's Literary Annual 1984)
At the center of the odd, miscellaneous, brilliant, and intensely verbal coterie known as the Bloomsbury Group stands the strangely silent and enigmatic figure of Vanessa Bell. Frances Spalding, in her carefully researched biography, attempts to render Vanessa Bell less enigmatic. Ultimately Spalding does not succeed, but she does provide a serious and judicious evaluation of the art of Vanessa Bell, in conjunction with but in distinction from the art of her lifelong colleague, friend, and lover, Duncan Grant. Somewhat less successfully, Spalding presents a portrait of a remarkable and unconventional woman who managed to free herself from the constraints which governed the lives of middle-class women in the early years of the twentieth century and to build without rancor or waste of energy a life that met her needs as an artist and as a woman. Finally, Spalding’s book goes a long way toward answering the question of what held the Bloomsbury Group together, recounting as it does the life of an artist who, in her commitment to hard work and friendship and in her ability never to lose sight of what really mattered, embodied the ideals of Bloomsbury.
Spalding, an art historian and the author of a noteworthy biography of Roger Fry, is at her best discussing and assessing Bell’s artistic development and achievement. As Spalding depicts her, Bell emerges as an important painter and graphic designer who managed to break away from the lofty subjects,...
(The entire section is 1728 words.)
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