A joint display of photographs by the maverick Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell and the veteran US punk musician Patti Smith is due to go on show next year at Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London. The presentation, Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith (8 February-4 June), includes a series of images taken by Smith at Charleston, Bell’s farmhouse on the Sussex Downs in southern England.
“Bell and Smith are both free spirits that challenged the times they lived in, and epitomised the ideal of creative freedom,” says the curator Sarah Milroy. The display accompanies a major retrospective of Bell’s work (also 8 February-4 June).
Patti Smith, Paint Brushes, Duncan Grant’s studio (2008) (© Patti Smith. Courtesy of the artist and Robert Miller Gallery)
The Bloomsbury set, a coterie of free-thinking writers and artists that thrived in London in the inter-war period, has long been a source of fascination for Smith. The display will include a selection of her black-and-white photographs, the product of her residency at Charleston in 2003, which capture “the lingering remnants of Bell’s life and chart Smith’s ongoing artistic response to the Bloomsbury group”, the organisers say.
Smith said in statement: “I felt a real longing to document this place in the same manner that I document my own home because it is very much how I live: books everywhere, things that seem very humble, very sacred, a simple wooden box, a shell, a paint tube— everything has significance.”
In 2014, the historian Simon Schama wrote in the Financial Times that “something about those Bells and Woolfs [Virginia Woolf is Bell’s sister], perhaps their criss-crossing between prose, painting and partners, spoke to Patti Smith, as if Charleston was [New York’s] Chelsea Hotel in wellies”.
Seven of Bell’s photography albums, on loan from the Tate archives, include images of the late artist with her husband Clive Bell and lover Duncan Grant along with pictures depicting her childhood in St Ives, Cornwall. The works shed light on Bell’s artistic practice, and how photography influenced her painting.