George BELL, The mirror Enlarge 1 /1

George BELL

Kew, Victoria, Australia 1878 – Toorak, Victoria, Australia 1966

  • France 1904-06
  • England 1906-20

The mirror 1956 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil paint; wood oil paint Support: plywood

Primary Insc: signed lower left in oil paint, "George Bell", not dated
Dimensions: 34.5 h x 26.6 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1965
Accession No: NGA 65.153
Image rights: © A. Niven

In this teasing interior, the sight of an overblown nude in her tasteful boudoir brings a bonny blush to the window ledge in the upper right. Like an eternal flame, an analogy that George Bell would have enjoyed, the curvaceous form of the backview figure surges upward to erupt in a froth of towel. Seen from a low viewpoint, this monumental and headless form is engaged in the timeless ritual of drying her hair.

As a convert to modern art after years of traditional training and practice, it is the idea of emotional pleasure that Bell sought to capture. Rather than imitate the form, therefore, he expressed his understanding of the nude through an exaggerated rhythm of serpentine lines, quivering masses and fiddle shaped forms (he played the viola).

Bell’s reputation rests chiefly on his determined defence and advocacy of modern art in the 1930s, when art was going through a conservative phase. At the George Bell School (which he and Arnold Shore started in 1932), his influential teaching method emphasised life drawing from the model as a basis for memory painting. Bell also gave his students a sense of history and a thorough grounding in craftsmanship and techniques. The mirror, painted at the age of 78 for Bell’s own pleasure, combines innovation and tradition in a way that suggests that they are complementary and not opposed.

Felicity St John Moore, 2002

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra