A Pace University professor explores the life of one of the Bloomsbury Group's lesser-known figures. Clive Bell, husband of Virginia Woolf's sister Vanessa, was a critic whose book Art subverted the era's conventional narratives of art history and helped open minds to the new modes of modern art and writing.
This is the first biography of Bell and, like its subject, it is amusing, charming, stimulating, urbane. It is a bit on the plump side, but then so was Bell ... This book could be a roll or two slimmer, but it is a most sustaining read ... It is this appetite—for life, for art, for a brace of partridges and snipe—that makes Bell such happy company ... It makes you long to be taken round a gallery by Bell. This book is the next best thing.
... what Hussey wants us to see in this revelatory book is just how different, how much of an outsider in Bloomsbury Clive Bell really was ... While none of this may sound very edifying, it provides a fascinating starting point for Hussey’s meticulously researched and hugely well-informed account of how modern art entered the British bloodstream in the first decades of the 20th century ... You certainly don’t end Hussey’s biography liking Bell. At times he seems to combine bad bits of cliquey, snobbish Bloomsbury with the even worse parts of anti-Bloomsbury—hearty, noisy and frequently brandishing a brace of dead partridge. Still, Hussey’s patient recuperative work is important in reminding us that the significant players in last century’s art history often refuse to fit our sentimental requirements.
At best [Bell] is a dilettante with good taste who didn’t quite belong with the intellectuals of Bloomsbury; at worst he is a womaniser with Nazi sympathies who took advantage of Virginia Woolf. In this useful book Mark Hussey lets him take centre stage and delivers a far more nuanced portrait ... Bell’s relationship with Virginia [Woolf] was more complicated ... Hussey’s patient tracing of the ebbs and flows of their relationship is one of the most rewarding elements of this book ... This biography is a thorough assessment of Bell ... This workmanlike biography may be a little old-fashioned, but it is generous to its subject, refuting accusations of dilettantism whilst admitting his flaws and reminding us how much Bell contributed to British modernism.