Clive Bell is perhaps more well-known today for being a Bloomsbury socialite and the husband of Vanessa Bell, sister to Virginia Woolf, than anything else. Yet Bell was a highly important figure in his own right: an internationally renowned art critic who championed young artists, he defended daring new forms of expression at a time when Britain was closed off to all things foreign. His groundbreaking book Art brazenly subverted the narratives of art history and cemented his status as the great interpreter of modern art. Bell was also an ardent pacifist and a touchstone for the Wildean values of individual freedoms, and his is a story that leads us into an extraordinary world of intertwined lives, loves and sexualities.
For decades Bell has been a shadowy figure, refracted through the wealth of writing on Bloomsbury, but here Mark Hussey brings Bell to the forefront through reference to personal letters, archives and Bell’s own extensive writing. Complete with a cast of famous characters, including Lytton Strachey, T. S. Eliot, Katherine Mansfield, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau, Clive Bell and the Making of Modernism is a fascinating portrait of a man who was born into the life of a country squire but went on to become one of the pioneering voices in art of his era.
Reclaiming Bell’s stature among the makers of modernism, Hussey has given us a biography to muse and marvel over – a snapshot of a time and of a man who was at the heart of the shock of the new.