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January 28, 1981

Author and artist Angelica Bell, the niece of Virginia Woolf, visited Vassar and lectured on “Vanessa Bell’s Family Relations,”as part of a tour to raise money to restore Charleston House, which her parents Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant decorated. Charleston was the summer retreat of the Bloomsbury group of writers artists, and intellectuals, of which Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were members, along with E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry, Clive Bell, T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf.

Bell spoke candidly and in detail about her mother’s troubled relationships with her sister Virginia and with others both in the family and in the group of artists and intellectuals who gathered at Charleston. Both sisters were strongly influenced by their father, the formidable author, editor and historian of philosophy, Sir Lesle Stephen, the first editor of Britain’s Dictionary of National Biography. When tensions arose, Vanessa tended, wrote Peggy Hayes ’83 in The Miscellany News, “to retreat into silence…. In this way, Vanessa was very much like her father, whom Virginia feared greatly.” With the death of Vanessa Bell’s son Julian in the Spanish civil war, she “disintegrated and lost all faith in the good life,” returning only after the “sheer perseverance and..great love” of Duncan Grant, Vanessa’s lover and Angelica’s father, to a “melancholy equilibrium.” Angelica Bell, however, recalled most fondly her mother’s engagement with the “thrill and importance of the visual world.” Her most vivid memory of Vanessa was of her “in an old summer dress and espadrilles, standing before the canvas, poised tentatively, before she makes that firs and most important mark on the canvas.”

In conjunction with Angelica Bell’s visit, the art department presented the exhibit in Taylor Hall, Aspects of Bloomsbury, featuring the art of Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Angelica Bell. The exhiibit was first mounted when Angelica Bell spoke at Vassar in January, 1980.

The Years