Vanessa Bell, Monte Oliveto, 1912
Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) is well-known as Virginia Woolf's older sister. She was also a member of the Bloomsbury Group herself as a successful painter and interior designer. Bell (née Stephen) attended art school in 1896 and studied painting at the Royal Academy beginning in 1901. This beautiful painting of the Italian Campagna is very much of its time. In 1912, despite the beginnings of Modernism and Dada, a Post-Impressionist style still ruled the day. Bell's piece recalls the precedent of Cezanne and van Gogh, but with her own definitive stamp. The highly elongated trees and earthy tones portray nature infused with emotional attachment. Bell created a landscape of extreme beauty while also portraying the reality of her subject. We can imagine climbing this hill and reaching the forest of Cyprus trees. Bell's great gift to us in this painting is to offer a view that is simultaneously idealized and realistic and it is this tension that continues to hold our gaze.