Friday, February 13, 2009

Bloomsbury and Berwick

One does not readily associate the Bloomsbury Group with Christian art.

One of the leading members of the Group was Vanessa Bell (née Stephen) (30 May 1879 – 7 April 1961), the sister of the novelist, Virginia Woolf.(1882–1941).

Vanessa Bell is considered one of the major contributors to British portrait drawing and landscape art in the 20th century. After the First World War, she reverted to a more naturalistic style. She had by then begun her close association with Duncan Grant.

During the Second World War, the then Anglican Bishop of Chichester (the celebrated George Bell, Bishop 1929-58) commissioned Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell to provide murals for Berwick Church in Sussex. It is near their home at Charleston, Firle, Lewes.

The Annunciation was one of the murals.

Angelica Bell, daughter of Grant and Bell, was the model for Mary. Bell`s friend, Chattie Salaman posed for the angel Gabriel. The walled garden with its ordered beds behind is based on that at Charleston Farmhouse

On 10th October 1943, Bishop Bell said this in his sermon:

"The work of the artists, their imagination and their painting, is a work of praise. With their hearts they are saying it -with their colour and their brushes -‘ We praise Thee, O God: we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord’.

The very walls with this new glory on them are singing their praises - and we in the congregation - clergy and people - with our hearts attuned with the subject painted and that the artist created, are stirred afresh and exalted to new heights of adoration as we take our place in the great chorus of praise lifted to the Creator by all creation - man and nature -all that is noblest, strongest, wisest, and swiftest, in heaven and on earth.

‘Every created thing which is in the heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea -all things that are in them - heard we saying ‘Unto Him that sitteth upon the Throne and unto the Lamb be blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, for ever and ever.’’

Bishop Bell expressed his belief that the murals represented a fulfilment of his vision to reunite religion and 'modern' art and so bring about a ‘spiritual awakening of our country’.

For the Berwick Church website and more information about the murals see here.

Vanessa Bell (1879 – 1961)
The Annunciation 1941-2
Berwick Church

Vanessa Bell (1879 – 1961)
Study for The Annunciation 1940-2

Vanessa Bell painting The Annunciation onto plasterboards at Charleston

Chattie Salaman and Angelica Bell posing in costume for the Berwick Church murals.

Page from Vanessa Bell's photograph album with photographs of her friend Chattie Salaman posing as an angel for the Berwick Church murals