Robert Anning Bell
British, 1863 - 1933
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Robert Anning Bell was born in London and educated at University College School until the age of fifteen. He was then articled for two years to an uncle who was an architect before entering the RA Schools and studying under Professor Fred Brown at the Westminster School of Art. Brown himself had studied in Paris at Julian's, and no doubt influenced Bell's decision to spend a year working in Paris with the painter Aimé Morot. Returning to England, he shared a studio with the sculptor George Frampton, then spent a further period studying in Italy. During the 1890s he was deeply involved in the Arts and Crafts, being well known as an illustrator and, together with Frampton, developing a line in plaster reliefs, hand-coloured in imitation of Della Robbia plaques. In 1895 he was appointed to teach painting and drawing at the School of Architecture, University College, Liverpool. He proved an inspiring teacher, and was associated with Harold Rathbone's Della Robbia Pottery at Birkenhead, supplying designs for reliefs. After four years, however, he resigned to give more time to his own work. He had exhibited at the Royal Academy since 1885. In 1888 he joined the NEAC, to which his Parisian training made him sympathetic, and in 1901 he was elected Associate of the RWS (made a full member in 1904). He always had a preference for watercolour (see his article in praise of the medium in OWCS Annual Vol II 1925), although he painted in tempera and oil as well. In later life he carried out many designs for stained glass and mosaic; prominent examples of the latter occur over the entrance to Westminster Cathedral and in the Central Lobby of the Houses of Parliament. His mastery of so many art forms brought him numerous duties and honours. He was involved in the organisation of major Arts and Crafts exhibitions in London, Paris, Brussels and Turin. He was elected ARA in 1914 and RA 1922, enjoyed a long association with the Art Workers' Guild (Master 1921), and remained in demand as a teacher, being Professor of Decorative Art at Glasgow School of Art (from 1911), and succeeding W.R. Lethaby as Professor of Design at the RCA (1918-24). His reputation also stood high in Europe; the Luxembourg bought a painting, medals were awarded him in Vienna, Milan, Barcelona, etc, and the Spanish art-historian Alejandro Riquier wrote a monograph on him (1910). Bell's second wife, Laura, was also a notable, Slade-trained artist. They lived at 28 Holland Park Road, Kensington and had a wide circle of friends. Bell died on 27 November 1933 and the Fine Art Society held a memorial exhibition the following March.
Biographical source: John Christian, 'The Last Romantics: The Romantic Tradition in British Art: Burne-Jones to Stanley Spencer'
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