Vanessa Bell British , 1879-1961


David Garnett
Stephen Keynes, 1981
Private Collection, by descent


1984, London, Crafts Council Gallery, The Omega Workshops 1913-19: Decorative Arts of Bloomsbury, 18 Jan. - 18 March 1984, cat. no. P27 (illus.)
2017, London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Vanessa Bell, 8 Feb. - 4 June 2017, unnumbered
2018, London, Piano Nobile, From Omega to Charleston: The Art of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, 1910-1934, 16 Feb. - 28 April 2018, cat. no. 9
2019, Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage, 29 June - 27 Oct. 2019, cat. no. 64


Rachel Tranter, Vanessa Bell: A Life of Painting, 1998, Cecil Woolf, pl. 6
Judith Collins and Fiona MacCarthy, The Omega Workshops 1913-19: Decorative Arts of Bloomsbury, 1984, Crafts Council, cat. no. P27, p. 92
Lisa Milroy and Ian Dejardin, Vanessa Bell, 2017, Dulwich Picture Gallery, pp. 129 and 196
Richard Shone and Hana Leaper, From Omega to Charleston: The Art of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, 1910-1934, 2018, Piano Nobile Publications, cat. no. 9, pp. 42-45
Patrick Elliott with Freya Gowrley and Yuval Etgar, Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage, 2019, National Galleries of Scotland, cat. no. 64, pp. 92-93 (col. illus.)
Mary ‘Molly’ MacCarthy née Warre-Cornish (1882-1953) was a daughter of the Vice-Provost of Eton. In 1906, she married the critic and writer Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), himself an old Etonian, with whom she had three children. Although they lived in Chelsea, the MacCarthys were on intimate terms with Bloomsbury. It was Molly who instigated the Memoir Club in 1920 at which its members, after dining together, read short autobiographical papers, some of which are invaluable records of aspects of early Bloomsbury, particularly those by John Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf. Molly MacCarthy herself published several books, the best known of which is A Nineteenth Century Childhood (1924).

Molly was cursed with increasing deafness which inhibited sustained conversation at which, like her husband, she excelled. Accounts of her stress her humour and brilliant, sometimes fantastic talk. She had a short, unsatisfactory affair with Clive Bell. In 1914 she accompanied the Bells to Paris but whether she went with them to see Picasso is unclear. It was on this visit that Vanessa Bell was astonished by the artist's constructions and collages which were undoubtedly a spur for this work.

Bell and Molly MacCarthy were lifelong friends. Bell painted her at least twice in 1912 at Asheham House, Sussex, and photographed her naked in 1914 at 46 Gordon Square. This collage owes something to the two earlier paintings, but the sitter's dress and setting are different. It is entirely composed of painted and cut papers and is almost certainly the first such complete collage in modern British art. Bell did not go on to develop this strand in her work perhaps finding it a laborious practice in contrast to the sensuous directness of paint. The work was long in the collection of David Garnett and was acquired from his estate sale by Stephen Keynes, the nephew of John Maynard Keynes.

This text was written by Richard Shone for From Omega to Charleston: The Art of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant 1910–1934 (2018, Piano Nobile Publications).