Photograph albums and negatives by Vanessa Bell

Scope and Content

Vanessa Bell was an avid photographer taking snapshots of her family and friends from 1900 until the late 1940s. Her albums provide a unique visual record of the Bloomsbury Group. Whilst the two earliest albums depict the Stephens's family and friends in formal pose, often in photographers' studios, Vanessa Bell's photographs focus on those carefree moments, taken mostly outdoors and usually in the garden at Charleston Farmhouse. Initially, Bell both took and developed her own photographs, but later she made use of professional assistance. Her son Quentin Bell observed in 'Vanessa Bell's Family Album', "She gives us a record of family and friends and in fact uses the camera as most people use it if they are not professional photographers. The family album becomes an expression of sentiment and, to a very large extent, an expression of family affection".

Administrative / Biographical History

Vanessa Bell was born in 1879, daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen and sister of Virginia Woolf. She studied art under Sir Arthur Cope and at the Royal Academy Schools under John Singer Sargent. In 1907 she married Clive Bell and worked mainly in London, Sussex and France. Vanessa Bell exhibited first at the New Gallery in 1905, and at the New English Art Club, the Allied Artists Association and at numerous London galleries. She became a member of the London Group in 1919 and her work was exhibited at the second Post-Impressionist Exhibition in 1912. A central figure in the Bloomsbury Group, she founded the Friday Club in 1905, and was influenced by Roger Fry and by Duncan Grant. As co-director of the Omega Workshops she carried out many decorative projects, particularly with Grant. The impact of Post-Impressionism caused a radical change in her work. Influenced by Matisse she established a leading role as a colourist before 1920. Between 1914-15 she produced some pure abstracts but later returned to a more traditional naturalism and greater realism in works that centred around her friends, still-life and landscapes. Vanessa Bell died in 1961.


The loose negatives, mainly by Vanessa Bell, arrived in packets of 50 negatives and each packet had been allocated an alphabetical prefix with individual numbers for each negative (e.g.A1-50, M1-50, AA1-50). The packets held random groups of negatives - some clearly taken on the same day and at the same event had been separated. However, as many of the photographs have been reproduced in publications using these packet numbers as reference, the numbers have been retained. Copy prints have been made from all the negatives and are identified by the relevant negative number., The albums were numbered before they arrived at Tate with 'CH' (Charleston House), followed by a consecutive number for each album 1-9 in date order. The earliest album was donated later and bears the number 'CHa1'. These identifiers, though now replaced with TGA numbers, are noted in the descriptions of each album., The albums have been arranged in chronological order. The following loose photographs and negatives, which arrived with Album 'CHa1', have been placed with the 1981 collection of photographic material: 41 b+w negatives with prints; 7 b+w negatives and 15 photographs of male and female nudes, Asheham, 1912; Berwick Church, 1940-42; and miscellaneous subjects.

Access Information

Fragile item - Please use surrogate in the reading room


With the arrival of the nine albums in 1988 and the tenth in 1992, it was noted that several prints in the albums did not have corresponding negatives in the collection of loose negatives. Therefore, copy negatives and contact prints were made of these so that a complete set of negatives and prints now exists. The copy prints have the prefixes AF-AZ. In addition, photographs were taken of each page of the albums and printed slightly smaller than actual size. These prints were annotated with the negative numbers (where known) of the prints on every page of the album.

Other Finding Aids

Paper list and a personal name index has been compiled and is available for use.

Related Material

Letters from Bell to her son Julian (TGA 9311); letters from Bell to Dr Portia Holman re the death of Julian Bell (TGA 8511) and papers of the Charleston Trust (TGA 8010).


Family Names

Corporate Names

Geographical Names