Love In Bloomsbury at Bonhams Modern British & Irish Art Sale

The art historian and critic Roger Fry (1866-1934) occupied a central role in British cultural life during the first four decades of the 20e century. Key figure in the influential Bloomsbury group of writers, artists and free thinkers, and founding member of both Burlington magazine and the Omega workshops which gave practical expression to the group’s design aesthetic, Fry is, however, perhaps best known for organizing the Manet and the Post-Impressionists exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in London in 1910. The exhibition not only presented the work of painters such as Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Matisse to the British public, it also gave the world a new word – post-impressionism, which has been a standard concept in art history for over a century. Roger Fry was himself a painter, and his Vanessa Bell in a deckchair is one of the featured images of the Bonhams Modern British and Irish Art sale in London on Wednesday 30 June. It is estimated between £ 15,000 and £ 25,000.

The work was painted in 1911 either in Fry’s house in Durbins near Guildford or in a nearby rented house called Millmead Cottage; Bell divided his time between the two properties while recovering from a serious illness. Around this time, Fry and Bell began an affair that lasted until 1913, when Bell decided to settle down with the predominantly gay painter Duncan Grant, by whom she later had a child, Angelica. (Life in the Bloomsbury group being what it was, Angelica later married much older novelist David Garnett – a former lover of her father). The end of the affair with Bell caused Fry a great deal of distress although they remained friends for the rest of his life.

Bonhams Director of Modern British and Irish Art Chris Dawson said: “Although Roger Fry considered painting secondary to his career as a critic and art historian, he was in fact an excellent artist and his works now receive considerable attention. In July of last year, for example, Bonhams set a world auction record for a work by Fry when Portrait of EM Forster sold for £ 325,000. Fry executed Vanessa Bell in a deckchair while caring for Bell during his illness. Her charming portrait of the crippled Vanessa perfectly captures the tender feelings of a man on the verge of falling in love.

Other Fry paintings on sale include The Walled Garden, Charleston painted in 1919-20 at Bell’s house in the Sussex countryside which she bought in 1916 and shared with Grant – and for a time with Garnett. This is also where her husband Clive Bell (who raised Angelica as his own child) had a study. Charleston has become a home for the Bloomsbury group and, as Bell’s granddaughter Virginia Nicholson noted in the summer edition of Bonhams Magazine, Roger Fry played a major role in transforming the house into the distinctive house it would become. In his words: “At Charleston, his mark is everywhere. It’s sometimes forgotten, but the truth is, Charleston wouldn’t be Charleston without Roger Fry.

The sale also features paintings by other members of the Bloomsbury Group, including:

  • Cornish Cottages by Duncan Grant (1885-1978) Estimate: £ 30,000-50,000.

See also

  • Landscape in St Tropez by Vanessa Bell (1879-1961). Estimate: £ 15,000-25,000.
  • male nude sitting by Duncan Grant. Estimate: £ 12,000-18,000.

Laura J. Boyer