Though the fact that this gloriously colored painting depicts a housemaid and thus raises all kinds of troublesome questions about whether when housework is elevated to a profession, we can still consider it within our remit of “housewives in art”, nevertheless it features a woman involved in domestic work, and as it is my blog I do believe I can change the rules on the merest whim or fancy for what you must agree is a truly lovely work of art…
Intriguing because it features a woman who makes her living doing manual labour, in this painting she stands transfixed beside what could be the writing desk, where Vanessa Bell herself could have sat down to write her now famous collection of more than 3000 letters.
But like everything else to do with Charleston, ultimately it is the use of color that separates this somewhat ordinary domestic scene apart. Look at those muddy plums and purples! That it should seem both vibrant and muddy seems to me to describe the truth about housework, and though this painting depicts a scene of privileged bohemia, at Vanessa Bell’s hand, housework becomes a thing of beauty.
Amazon.com: The Letters of Vanessa Bell: Vanessa Bell, Regina Marler, Regina Mahler, Quentin Bell: Books
Vanessa Bell was a central figure in the Bloomsbury Group. The sister of Virginia Woolf and wife of Clive Bell, she lived at what is now the shrine of the Bloomsbury Group – Charleston Manor in Sussex, as part of a “menage a trois” with her husband and the artist Duncan Grant. There are more than 3000 of Vanessa Bell’s letters which survive. They show her to be an extremely unconventional woman for her time.