Born in London into a distinguished literary family, Vanessa Bell was the daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen, the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, and her younger sister was the novelist Virginia Woolf. She studied at the Royal Academy Schools and in 1905 founded the Friday Club as a discussion group for artists. In 1907 she married Clive Bell, and their house at 46 Gordon Square became one of the focal points of the Bloomsbury Group.
Her early work, up to about 1910, and her paintings produced after the First World War are in the tradition of the New English Art Club, but in the intervening period she was in the vanguard of progressive ideas in British art. At this time, stimulated by the Post-Impressionist exhibitions organized by Roger Fry, she worked with bright colours and bold forms, and by 1914 she was painting completely abstract pictures. This works dates from this transitional period.
From 1916 Bell lived with Duncan Grant. They spent a good deal of time in London and travelling abroad, but they lived mainly at Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex, and did much painted decoration in the house. In addition to the work at Charleston, they collaborated on other decorative schemes. Bell’s independent work included portraits, landscapes, interiors, and figure compositions. She also did a good deal of design work, including covers for books published by the Hogarth Press, founded by Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard Woolf in 1917. After the Second World War, her work – like that of Grant – went out of fashion, but she continued painting vigorously into her old age.