Vanessa Bell is central to the history of the Bloomsbury group, yet until this authorised biography was written, she largely remained a silent and inscrutable figure. Tantalising glimpses of her life appeared mainly in her sister, Virginia Woolf's, letters, diaries and biography. Frances Spalding here draws upon a mass of unpublished documents to reveal Bell's extraordinary achievements in both her art and her life. She recounts in vivid detail how Bell's move into the Bloomsbury group and her exposure to Paris and the radical art of the Post-Impressionists ran parallel with an increasingly unorthodox personal life that spun in convoluted threads between her marriage to Clive Bell, her affair with Roger Fry, her friendship with Duncan Grant and relationship with her sister.
She was the heart and soul of Charleston, and created an atmosphere where friendship and creativity flourished. The complex situation re love affairs brought both happiness and tragedy. Roger Fry loved Vanessa, but she rejected him for Bell, and then fell in love with Grant who preferred men physically, but stayed with her for her whole life as a painting partner and soul mate. There was rivalry of a sort between Vanessa and Virginia, because Virginia felt the lack of motherhood in her life, and envied Vanessa her wholesomeness, her children and the gaiety and beauty of her home.
It is interesting that the Bloomsbury group seems to have managed to rise above sexual jealousy, and remain friends with ex spouses and lovers.
Judging from the biography and her letters, I think Vanessa was a more human and warmer, more loving person than Virginia. However, the fact that Virginia did not recognize her lesbianism early and was not able to live openly with her lover Vita Sackville-West as Vanessa lived with Grant must account for some of the difference in affect. Angelica Bell's bitter book "Betrayed with Kindness" shows how difficult it was for her to recognize that her father was Duncan Grant, and she went ahead and married his former lover David Garnett. Bisexuality was certainly rampant there.