News - Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith

In February, Dulwich Picture Gallery will present the first photography display bringing together work by the British modern artist, Vanessa Bell and the American musician, writer and artist, Patti Smith...

‘Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith’, which coincides with the Gallery’s major retrospective of Vanessa Bell’s work, will include 17 photographs by Smith and a selection of Bell’s photo albums, displayed publicly for the first time. It couples two artists both known for their pioneering creative drive and defiance of social mores, showcasing two different but compatible artistic visions.

Vanessa Bell was born in London in 1879. The eldest of four children and sister to renowned writer Virginia Woolf, she was encouraged from a young age to pursue her individual talents. In 1901 she began studying at the Royal Academy Schools, under the tutelage of John Singer Sargent, amongst others. Following the death of her parents, Vanessa and her siblings moved from their family home to Bloomsbury, where regular meetings with other artists and intellectuals lead to the formation of The Bloomsbury Group. In 1907, she married fellow Bloomsbury member Clive Bell, with whom she had two children. In 1912, alongside such notable names as Picasso and Matisse, Bell exhibited her work in the influential Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries, London, a landmark show organised by Roger Fry. Alongside Fry, Bell and Duncan Grant co-founded The Omega Workshop, an artists’ co-operative for decorative arts that operated between 1913 and 1919. Bell had her first solo exhibition at the Omega Workshops in 1916, and another at London’s Independent Gallery in 1922.

Patti Smith began as a visual artist and has been making drawings and taking photographs since the late 1960s. In recent years, her practice has expanded to include installation. She was most recently the subject of Camera Solo, a survey of her photographs organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (2011), which travelled to Detroit Institute of Arts (2012) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (2013). Just Kids, a memoir of Smith’s remarkable relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe during the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies, won her the 2010 National Book Award in the nonfiction category. Her 1975 album Horses, established her as one of most original and important musical artists of her generation and was followed by ten releases, including Radio Ethiopia; Easter; Dream of Life; Gone Again, Trampin’, and Banga, her latest. She continues to perform throughout the world and in 2007 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In July of 2005, she was presented with the prestigious insignia of Commander of the Order of the Arts and Letters, an esteemed French cultural honour. In May 2011, Smith won the Polar Music Prize, Sweden’s most prestigious music award.

Smith has long been drawn to the work and lives of the Bloomsbury Group, finding inspiration and solace in the rural retreats of these forward thinking artists and thinkers. Charleston, Bell’s farmhouse on the Sussex Downs, where she lived with her life companion Duncan Grant, and the neighbouring Monk’s House, home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, both became sites of pilgrimage for Smith. The display will include a selection of Smith’s black and white photographs, the product of her residency at Charleston in 2003, which capture the lingering remnants of Bell’s life and chart Smith’s ongoing artistic response to the Bloomsbury group.

Commenting on Charleston, Smith said: “Art was a part of everyday living. Their cups and saucers were designed by themselves, their utensils, the wallpaper, tapestries. When I first came here I found it just like home […] I felt a real longing to document this place in the same manner that I document my own home because it is very much how I live: books everywhere, things that seem very humble, very sacred, a simple wooden box, a shell, a paint tube – everything has significance.”

On display with Smith’s photographs will be seven of Bell’s photograph albums, generously loaned from the Tate Archives, that were carefully compiled by Bell during her lifetime. Bell took pictures from her earliest days - some of the photographs date from her youth at St Ives, where her family spent their summers. Others depict her own young family, her husband Clive Bell and lover Duncan Grant, and the circle of leading intellectuals and artists that surrounded them. The selection also offers an insight into Bell’s working process, illuminating how she used the camera to inform her paintings and providing an intimate glimpse of the Bloomsbury members behind closed doors.

“In our display, these photographs and their makers will be able to speak to each other across the years” says curator Sarah Milroy. “Bell and Smith are both free spirits that challenged the times they lived in, and epitomised the ideal of creative freedom. We look forward to their conversation.”

While Smith’s photographs depict places abandoned to the forces of time, Bell’s teem with a host of characters, captured by her sharp eye and framed by her keen compositional instincts. Seen together, these images offer a present and past reflection on Charleston and Bloomsbury, suggesting a lineage of free thought and female creativity that continues to this day.

Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith 8 February – 4 June 2017

For More information and to book tickets please visit theirwebsite

Images:Patti Smith, Paint brushes, Duncan Grant’s studio, 2008, Gelatin silver print, edition of 10, © Patti Smith. Courtesy the artist and Robert Miller Gallery
Brandon Camp, 1913. Photographs by Vanessa Bell and others, in Vanessa Bell’s album, Tate (TGA 9020/3) © Tate Archive, London 2016.