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Clive Bell

(1881—1964) art critic and writer

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(b East Shefford, Berkshire, 16 Sept. 1881; d London, 17 Sept. 1964).

British writer on art. In 1910 he met Roger Fry and quickly became his chief apostle in helping to spread an appreciation of Post-Impressionism in Britain. Bell helped with the organization of Fry's first Post-Impressionist exhibition (1910), and he chose the British section of the second one (1912), including work by his wife Vanessa Bell, Fry himself, and Duncan Grant among Bloomsbury Group artists, with Spencer Gore and Wyndham Lewis representing the more radical wing. His aesthetic ideas, expressed most fully in his book Art (1914), were much concerned with the theory of ‘significant form’. He invented this term to denote ‘the quality that distinguishes works of art from all other classes of objects’—a quality never found in nature but common to all works of art and existing independently of representational or symbolic content. The book is not now taken seriously as philosophy, and it contains some absurd statements (‘The bulk of those who flourished between the high Renaissance and the contemporary movement may be divided into two classes, virtuosi and dunces’); however, it is written with fervour, and his ideas were influential in spreading an attitude that placed emphasis on the formal qualities of a work of art (see formalism).

Quentin Bell (1910–96), son of Clive and Vanessa Bell, was a painter, sculptor, potter, and author, probably best known for his writings on art, mainly on the Victorian period and the Bloomsbury Group. Between 1962 and 1975 he was a professor at the universities of Leeds, Hull, and Sussex. Quentin's daughter Cressida Bell (b1959) is a designer, mainly of textiles, and his son, Julian Bell (b 1952) is a painter and writer on art; his books include Mirror of the World: A New History of Art (2007).

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