A celebration of celebrities (a pride of lions)
Vanessa Bell, by Frances Spalding. New York and New Haven, Conn.: Ticknor & Fields. 399 pp. $22.95. Artist Vanessa Bell sat serenely in the garden, making doll clothes for her children, . . . but her sister, writer Virginia Woolf, knew there were ''volcanoes under her sedate manner.''Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Vanessa was a paradox. On the one hand, this quiet earth mother doted on her kin and stabilized her eccentric friends; on the other hand, her smoldering energy found release in living and loving as she pleased, with painting as her core.
Using largely unpublished sources, art historian Frances Spalding focuses on this artist, whose work has receded in public memory since the 1930s. Spalding includes a collection of black-and-white as well as color photographs of Vanessa's Post-Impressionist-influenced painting.
Vanessa's family and intimates - among them reviewer Clive Bell, art critic Roger Fry, and artist Duncan Grant - add texture to this tightly woven biography. All were part of England's Bloomsbury crowd, those upper-class intellectuals whose rebellious behavior and modernist art set the establishment on its ear.
Spalding does not judge the independent Vanessa - she just records an unconventional life. E.L. The Bread Box Papers, by Helen Hartman Gemmill. Bryn Mawr, Pa.: Dorrance & Co. 275 pp. $22.95.
E.L. was Dickens's ''little darling,'' Dumas's dinner guest, a character in Henry Adams's best-selling novel, ''Democracy.'' Elizabeth Lawrence, wife of a wealthy diplomat, was a 19th-century ''Auntie Mame'' whose conversation sparkled like the finest crystal on her dining table.
Writing letters as she traveled from Washington to London to the Continent, E. L. observed her times with an eye for customs, costume, and convention - an ear for drawing-room dialogue and behind-the-fan gossip.
With a cache of Elizabeth's letters recently discovered in an old family breadbox and a musty scrapbook of pressed flowers, photographs, and vintage post cards, the author stirs E. L. The Bread Box Papers into a tasty concoction - rich as plum pudding.
Elizabeth leads an animated parade of celebrities across the pages. She sips tea with actress Fanny Kemble, breakfasts with poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, dances with author Thackeray.
''E.L. The Bread Box Papers'' may be one of the liveliest surprises ever found under a Christmas tree. The Crazy Years, Paris In The Twenties, by William Wiser. New York: Atheneum. 256 pp. $27.50.
''This Paris,'' said Catalan painter Miro ''has shaken me from head to foot - in the good sense.'' As Paris broke free from World War I doldrums, regaining its unrestrained atmosphere, artists felt the stirring.
m Wiser describes a restless 1920s Paris enthused with new life as emigres from the Russian revolution poured from the East and American expatriates - living high on the dollar - arrived from the West. Composer Sergei Prokofiev and artist Marc Chagall mingled with writers James Thurber and Robert Sherwood.