Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) – part 1

Sketch of Vanessa Bell by Roger Fry, 1919 (REF/4/8/10, 16).
Sketch of Vanessa Bell by Roger Fry, 1919 (REF/4/8/10, 16).

Mother of Julian Heward Bell (1908-1937, KC 1927)

Vanessa Bell was one of the people at the heart of the Bloomsbury group, alongside her sister Virginia Woolf. Julian Heward Bell was born to Vanessa Bell, the artist, and Clive Bell, the art critic, in 1908. Vanessa Bell famously had an affair with Duncan Grant and they had a daughter, called Angelica Garnett.

The Bloomsbury group is characterised as being progressive and valuing openness very highly. Arguably, this is best seen in the relationship between Vanessa Bell and her son Julian. In Julian Bell: From Bloomsbury to the Spanish Civil War, Peter Stansky and William Abrahams wrote

Julian was born on February 4, 1908. The most important person in Julian’s life, from its very beginning to its very end, was his mother, the gifted and beautiful Vanessa Bell. Theirs was a relationship without a break and without concealment: in it the full implications of Bloomsbury candor were taken to their limits, and the connection between mother and son never weakened.

When Julian Bell came up to King’s College in 1927, his letters home included rather unsurprising details about how he was settling into his new life, as well as requests for items like pictures and a bicycle. In that sense, there are similarities with Rupert Brooke’s first letters home upon matriculating. Where the differences lie is in the tone, with Julian’s letters home almost seeming like letters to a friend. For example, he calls his mother ‘Nessa’.