It was her younger sister, Virginia Woolf, who was the most famous member of the family.
But it was Vanessa Bell who helped start what became the Bloomsbury Group of writers, artists and intellectuals in London between the World Wars. One of England’s most famous post-impressionist painters, Bell also designed many of the book covers for the Hogarth Press, which her sister and brother-in-law, Leonard, started. Her simple arts-and-crafts designs, with their recurrent geometries and lowercase lettering, had as much of their own vocabulary as the sometimes dense prose inside.
Although some criticized Bell’s artwork at the time, her sister told her: “Your style is unique, because so truthful; and therefore it upsets one completely.”
Here are some numbers about Bell’s life and work, featured in a new exhibition at the National Museum
of Women in the Arts.
Year that Vanessa Stephen was born in Westminster to Sir Leslie Stephen and Julia Prinsep Duckworth.
Vanessa’s age when her mother died. She was 18 when her sister Stella died and 25 when her father died. Her sister Virginia would make her first suicide attempt a year later.
Thursdays was what came to be called the gathering of writers, intellectuals and artists in Vanessa’s home in Gordon Square of Bloomsbury, in central London.
Number of book jackets Bell designed for the Hogarth Press.
Number of Hogarth Press books with Bell’s covers in the current display at the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Span of years between the books on display — 1921 to 1943.
Number of books in the show written by Virginia Woolf.
Number of copies made in the first press run of “Monday or Tuesday,” a collection of Woolf’s writing that also includes four of Bell’s woodcut illustrations inside.
Number of pages in the thickest Woolf book on display, “The Years,” from 1937.
Age of Bell’s son Julian when he died in the Spanish Civil War in 1937.
Age of Bell’s daughter, Angelica, when she died in 2012. She wrote a 1984 memoir of growing up in the Bloomsbury Group, “Deceived With Kindness.”
Bell’s age when she died at Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, England, in 1961.
Year the film “Carrington” was released, featuring Janet McTeer as Bell. Miranda Richardson portrayed her in 2002’s “The Hours” opposite Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf.
Catlin is a freelance writer.
Vanessa Bell’s Hogarth Press Designs Through Nov. 13 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, 1250 New York Ave. NW. 202-783-5000. www.nmwa.org. $10; students and seniors $8; members and visitors 18 and younger free.