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Clive Bell and the Making of Modernism Reviews

Clive Bell and the Making of Modernism by Professor Mark Hussey (Professor of English, Pace University, USA, Pace University, USA)

Clive Bell and the Making of Modernism: A Biography

Professor Mark Hussey (Professor of English, Pace University, USA, Pace University, USA)

4.20 out of 5

3 reviews

Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publication date: 1 Apr 2021
ISBN: 9781408894446
4 stars out of 5
Kathryn Hughes
5 May 2021

"A revelatory biography of the Bloomsbury outsider and influential critic who championed modern art"

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.)


3 stars out of 5
23 Apr 2021

"This biography is a thorough assessment of Bell"

Throughout the book there are examples of people who didn’t like Bell (Henry James thought him a ‘third-rate man’), but it is clear that Hussey is not among them. This workmanlike biography may be a little old-fashioned, but it is generous to its subject, refuting accusations of dilettantism whilst admitting his flaws and reminding us how much Bell contributed to British modernism.

5 stars out of 5
Laura Freeman
20 Mar 2021

"This is the first biography of Bell and, like its subject, it is amusing, charming, stimulating, urbane"

Bell is gleefully readable. He attacks the rich collectors who want only “pretty things for the boudoir, handsome ones for the hall, and something jolly for the smoking-room”. The Royal Academy is an “almshouse destined to become a cemetery”. He writes of the plight of the sensitive young man compelled to live “a truculent, shame-faced misfit, with John Bull under his nose and Punchround the corner, till, at some public school, a course of compulsory games and the Arnold tradition either breaks his spirit or makes him a rebel for life.” If you fancy a pleasurable few hours order a second-hand copy of Bell’s Civilization. “Critics,” Bell insisted, “exist not for artists but for the public.”