An Unlikely Champion. Quentin Bell by Sarah Butler

Quentin Bell. ‘Plate, thrown at the Fulham Pottery (decorated with triangular figure)’ c.1982. © Olivier Bell, Image © The University of Leeds Art Collection

Quentin Bell. ‘Plate, thrown at the Fulham Pottery (decorated with triangular figure)’ c.1982. © Olivier Bell, Image © The University of Leeds Art Collection

I don’t mean to gloat but there are often times when I love my job. In preparation for an upcoming exhibition* in the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, I was asked to research the poet/author/critic and all round polymath, Sir Herbert Read. Sifting through a box of correspondence between Read and some of his many famous friends in the arts, I stumbled upon a letter from Quentin Bell. Not only was Bell renowned in his own right for being an eminent teacher, artist and author but his family connections were astonishing, especially for a bibliophile and Bloomsbury Group fan like me! Son of artist, Vanessa Bell and art critic Clive Bell, Quentin was also the nephew of Virginia Woolf, about whom he wrote a critically acclaimed biography. In 1916, aged 6 years old, he moved to Charleston, the home and country meeting place of the Bloomsbury Group, with his mother and older brother, Julian. This breeding ground of creativity, intellectualism and liberalism provided inspiration and a sporadic home for Bell until he married in 1952. Quentin’s education was equally unconventional: he attended Peterborough Lodge, Hampstead, and later went to Leighton Park School in Reading, an independent Quaker school. He also studied painting in Paris, pottery in Staffordshire and collaborated with his mother and Duncan Grant on decorating a local church during the Second World War following his exemption from military service due to a past history of T.B.

Bell came to Leeds with his family in 1959 after being appointed Professor of Fine Art at the University. His letter to Read was written in 1967 soon after Bell and his family had moved back to his native Sussex. As I skimmed through Bell’s spidery scrawl, his remarks about Yorkshire caught my eye and gave me goosebumps of delight. Amidst general pleasantries, Bell rather sweetly admits that his children now “regard themselves as Leodensians and disapprove of the South”. As a Leeds lass born and bred, you can imagine this confession was music to my ears! He goes on to say that “Leeds and Yorkshire have a quality and character which makes me regret leaving them” – something I can relate to, as I went to University in another city.

Bell died in 1996 but his legacy lives on in the literature and art he produced and the pieces he acquired for the University of Leeds’ art collection, now called The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery. A treasure trove of mainly contemporary art, with the odd 17th, 18th and 19th century masterpiece thrown in, the Gallery is free and open to the public, Monday to Saturday.

 

Quentin Bell, ‘Round Plate, Draped Figure: Head and Shoulders of a Woman’ 1982. © Olivier Bell, Image © The University of Leeds Art Collection

Quentin Bell, ‘Round Plate, Draped Figure: Head and Shoulders of a Woman’ 1982. © Olivier Bell, Image © The University of Leeds Art Collection

 

*Herbert Read’s Artistic Alliances. Exhibition at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery.

1 September – 20 October 2014 

The Brotherton Library’s Special Collections at the University of Leeds holds the 14,000-volume library of the poet, art historian, critic and anarchist Sir Herbert Read (1893-1968).

The collection contains many published titles by Read himself, with volumes of his poetry including Naked Warriors, as well as first and later editions of his critical works such as A Concise History of Modern Painting. The Library also holds Read’s archive, including artworks, photographs, extensive correspondence with artists, and the original manuscript of his only novel, The Green Child.

With his strong associations and friendships with contemporary British and European artists, Read exchanged a great deal of correspondence with some of the major cultural figures of the mid-twentieth century. The 1930s and 40s was a time of great experimentation in British and European art, when many artists, writers and poets shared creative and political views.

This exhibition draws upon some of the letters and greetings cards Read sent and received to highlight the close relationships he forged with many famous artists, including Sir Henry Moore, Dame Barbara Hepworth and Quentin Bell, and the affection his contemporaries held him in.

A number of these were given to Read personally by individual artists. Often a note or additional drawing has been added to artists’ books or created specifically from a greetings card especially for Read, emphasising the artists’ admiration and affection for this leading authority on contemporary art.

Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend. Fiona is its Coordinator and Marketing Director of the Northern Short Story Festival.

You may also like...