As he got older, Bell made excruciating stabs at trying to be groovy – angling for an invite to the infamous Bath and Bottle party of 1928, taking cocaine in Vita Sackville-West’s Long Barn, dad-dancing with girls young enough to be stepping out with his own grownup sons.
While none of this may sound very edifying, it provides a fascinating starting point for Hussey’s meticulously researched and hugely well-informed account of how modern art entered the British bloodstream in the first decades of the 20th century. The peak of Bell’s influence came in 1914 with the publication of Art, in which he introduced the concept of significant form to a general readership. Predictably, the book brought him as much opprobrium as praise, especially when it emerged that its author was a noisy pacifist and conscientious objector. (Bell’s father, with a pleasing symmetry beloved by biographers, had just been made the martial-sounding Lord High Sheriff of Wiltshire.)