The Dulwich Picture Gallery illuminates the work of Vanessa Bell in this deeply fascinating and extraordinary exhibition.
Portraits, still life, landscapes – no element of Vanessa Bell’s extraordinary body of work is left untouched upon in this display which aims to bring the artist out to the forefront, having been overshadowed by the literary success of her sister – Virginia Woolf.
By stripping away her family life and complicated romantic entanglements, this exhibition leaves an image of an artist who played a key part in British art at a key time of change between Victorian ideals and a new and more modern world in which she lived.
Divided and organised thematically, the exhibition does tend to jump around time wise which can make it difficult to put into context the exact development of her ideas and approaches to her work but equally it reveals how she would return to an idea and frequently try and improve on it.
It is also a display that has very much a compare and contrast vibe about it, for example on examining the portraits in the first room of the exhibition, you can see she experimented with a mixture of modern techniques with a traditional style and vice versa. But as much as the other works on display, Bell wasn’t particularly interested in surface detail but rather by keeping details of the painting vague allowing the viewer to come to their own conclusions.
Although much of the work that has been selected for display is vibrant and bold in its colour choice, those in the At Home section certainly have a more sombre feel about them that suggests Bell felt a sense of duty when at home and unable be as creatively free as perhaps being outside with nature.
Yet her light heartedness and celebration of life is widely seen in the her more refined paintings in both the Landscape and Pictures of Women sections that suggest a different outlook on life, particularly in Pictures of Women whose roles in society began to change with votes for women coming into force and it becoming more acceptable for women to work.
Overall, it is a very clear and concise exhibition that is completely focused on showcasing exactly why Vanessa Bell was an artist in her own right and who deserves to be seen as such for a very long time.
Vanessa Bell: 1879 -196 is on display until the 4th June. For more information and to book tickets visit: http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/2017/february/vanessa-bell-1879-1961/.