Rare painting by Bloomsbury artist comes home

  • Published 28 March 2007

A rare early painting, Iceland Poppies, by Vanessa Bell, one of the most significant female artists of the early 20th century, has been bought by the Charleston Trust in East Sussex with a £20,000 grant from The Art Fund.

The total cost of the painting was £200,000, with addition funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) was a British Post-Impressionist and a member of the Bloomsbury Group. Her sister was Virginia Woolf, her great aunt the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and family friends included GF Watts, Thomas Hardy and Henry James.

Iceland Poppies, c.1908-9 is considered to be one of Bell’s finest paintings. It shows three poppies - two white, one red - in the foreground, with three vessels in the background. It is one of very few surviving paintings from Bell’s early career – almost all of her early paintings and drawings were destroyed in a fire in her London studio following a bombing raid during the Second World War.

In 1916 Vanessa Bell moved to Charleston with her lover and fellow Bloomsbury group artist Duncan Grant and it was to remain her Sussex home until her death in 1961. Working both alone and in partnership with Grant she created an extraordinary series of interiors there, decorated with mural paintings, stencilled wallpapers and painted furniture.

Bell gave Iceland Poppies to Duncan Grant - it then passed to their daughter, and the painting hung at Charleston until 1978. The painting has formed a key part of every major exhibition of Vanessa Bell’s work since her death in 1961.

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