Painter, teacher and art critic, George Bell spent a number of years in Europe studying, painting and working as an official war artist from 1918 to 1919. Art critic for the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial for almost three decades, Bell played an active and influential role in promoting the modern art movement in Australia in the 1930s and 40s.
Australian painter, teacher and art critic, George Bell was born on 1 December 1878 at Kew, Melbourne, the son of a public servant. From 1896 to 1901 he studied at the National Gallery School, Melbourne, where fellow students included Rose McPherson ( Margaret Preston ), Max Meldrum , Ambrose Patterson , and Hugh Ramsay. He also attended painting classes at GeorgeCoates 's studio.
Bell travelled to Europe and studied at the Académie Julian, and various other Paris academies from 1904 until 1906, when he went to England. It was in England that he became associated with a group of painters, which included Stanhope Forbes, who worked outdoors and were based in St Ives. Bell left St Ives in 1908 to work in a studio in London and from 1908 to 1915 Philip Connard was an important influence, the two artists going on painting trips together around London, Suffolk and Norfolk. Bell was also a friend of Philip Wilson Steer. He was a member of the Modern Society of Portrait Painters together with Gerald Kelly and George W. Lambert , painting portraits and interiors in a realist manner. At the Chelsea Arts Club, Bell mixed with Australian artists such as Coates and Tom Roberts .
During the First World War, Bell worked as a schoolteacher and in munitions and from 1918 to 1919 he was an Australian official war artist. In 1920, he returned to Melbourne and, in 1923, became art critic for the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial , a post he held until 1951. Throughout the 1920s, his painting was conservative but, in the 1930s, his work began to reflect the influence of Cézanne. In 1932, together with Arnold Shore, he established the Bell-Shore school, which he continued to run on his own after 1937.
In 1934 and 1935 Bell revisited Europe where he studied drawing under Iain McNab at the Grosvenor School, London and became interested in the writings and theories of Clive Bell and Roger Fry, which formed the basis of his own teaching of modernist principles in Australia during the 1930s and 1940s. During these years, he played an active and influential role in promoting the modern art movement in Australia.
He died in Melbourne on 22 October 1966, aged 87.
Gray, Dr Anne Note: Head of Australian Art, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT