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Bell, Clive

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Bell, Clive

    Other Names:

    • Arthur Clive Heward Bell

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1881

    Date Died: 1964

    Place Born: East Shefford, West Berkshire, England, UK

    Place Died: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): art theory

    Career(s): art critics


    Art critic and Bloomsbury theorist. Bell was son of William Heward Bell (1849-1927), a civil engineer, and Hannah Taylor Cory (1850-1942). He entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1899 studying history. There he was greatly influenced by G. E. Moore’s philosophy. He was awared a Earl of Derby studentship in 1902 to study in Paris which he instead spend looking at art. Upon his return, he joined the “Thursday evenings” at the Gordon Square home of Thoby Stephen (1880-1906), whom he had met at Cambridge. Others in this group were Thoby’s brother, Adrian, and their sisters, Vanessa and Virginia (the future Virginia Woolf). These evenings formed the basis for the British esthetic movement Bloomsbury. Bell married Vanessa Stephen in 1907 and became a major figure in the group. The Bell’s second son was Quentin Bell, who also became an art writer. In 1910 Bell met the art historian Roger Fry. Together Bell and Fry mounted the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition in London in 1912. Bell adopted many of the ideas Fry had written about and publish a simplified version of the esthetic, Art, in 1914. The book was responsible for popularizing the term “significant form.” Bell’s numerous affairs with women ranging from his sister-in-law, Virginia (before she married Leonard Woolf) to others, seemed to affect Vanessa little. She simply lived from 1915 with her soul mate, Duncan Grant, whose child, Angelica Bell (b. 1918), she bore. Clive Bell joined the pacifist movement in World War I, issuing a pamphlet Peace at Once, which was confiscated by the Lord Mayor of London in 1916. Other writings followed, including On British Freedom (1923) criticizing British taste as “genteel servitude.” He followed this with a survey of Impressionism, Landmarks in Nineteenth-century Painting, in 1927. His book on Proust published in, 1928, was Britain’s first book on the French writer. The same year he issued Civilization, arguing the necessity of a leisured élite for the maintenance of civilization. A memoir, Old Friends: Personal Recollections, was published in 1956. Bell’s book, Art was highly influential. It went through numerous editions and established the Bloomsbury art-for-art’s sake esthetic, “significant form” condoning form, independent of content, as most significant aspect of a work of art. As such, Bell could link the art of different periods together through their form, such as works from the renaissance and modern eras. He capitalized on the burgeoning interest in Italian renaissance so-called “primitives” by writing, “go to Santa Croce or the Arena Chapel and admit tht if the greatest name in European painting is not Cézanne, it is Giotto.”

    Selected Bibliography

    [complete bibliography:] Laing, Donald. Clive Bell: An Annotated Bibliography of the Published Writings. New York: Garland, 1983; Art. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1913; Old Friends: Personal Recollections. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956; Civilization: an Essay. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1928; Landmarks in Nineteenth-century Painting. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1927; Since Cézanne. London: Chatto and Windus, 1922; An Account of French Painting. New York: Harcourt, 1931; Enjoying Pictures: Meditations in the National Gallery and Elsewhere. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1934; Second Post-impressionist Exhibition: Re-arrangement. London: Grafton Galleries/Ballantyne, 1913; Warmongers. London: Peace Pledge Union, 1938.


    Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 7; Spaulding, Frances. Dictionary of Art; Egbert, Donald Drew. “English Art Critics and Modern Social Radicalism.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 26 no. 1 (1967-8): 29-46; Shone, Richard. Bloomsbury Portraits 2nd. ed. London: Phaidon, 1993; Watney, Simon. English Post-Impressionism. London: Studio Vista, 1980; Beechey, James. Clive Bell. London: John Murray, 1999; Harris, Martha Johnson. Clive Bell’s Formalism in Historical Perspective. Ph.D. thesis, University of Georgia, 1985;


    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Bell, Clive." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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