Vanessa Bell British , 1879-1961


David Garnett
Bought by Stephen Keynes, 1981
The Executors of Stephen Keynes


1984, London, Crafts Council Gallery, The Omega Workshops 1913-19: Decorative Arts of Bloomsbury, no.P27, illustrated
2017, London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Vanessa Bell, p.129
2018, London, Piano Nobile, From Omega to Charleston: The Art of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, 1910-1934, no.9


R. Tranter, Vanessa Bell: A Life of Painting, (London: Cecil Woolf, 1998) pl.6
Molly MacCarthy (1882-1953), née Mary Warre-Cornish, was a daughter of the Vice-Provost of Eton, and married the critic and writer Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952) 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 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 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.