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The Memoir Club

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© estate of Vanessa Bell

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The Memoir Club

by Vanessa Bell
oil on canvas, circa 1943
24 in. x 32 1/8 in. (608 mm x 816 mm)
Purchased with help from the Dame Helen Gardner Bequest, 2005
Primary Collection
NPG 6718

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The Memoir Club first met in 1920, some fifteen years after the original evening gatherings of friends at 46 Gordon Square which are usually taken to denote the beginning of Bloomsbury. It replaced the earlier Novel Club, which had met briefly in 1913. This portrait depicts eleven key figures associated with Bloomsbury, and is painted from mid-way through the life of the group. It depicts Duncan Grant, Leonard Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Clive Bell, David Garnett, Maynard and Lydia Keynes, Desmond and Molly MacCarthy, Quentin Bell and E.M. Forster. On the wall behind are painted portraits of past members of the group: Virginia Woolf by Duncan Grant, 1911; Lytton Strachey by Duncan Grant, 1913; and Roger Fry by Vanessa Bell, c.1933. It thus includes David Garnett and members of the younger generation, such as Quentin Bell, who were later admitted. Bell's own depicted presence in the painting suggests this is an imaginative evocation, rather than the depiction of an actual meeting. The club continued in an evolved state until Clive Bell's death in 1964.

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  • Bell, Quentin; Nicholson, Virginia, Charleston : a Bloomsbury house and garden, 1997, p. 9

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Current affairs

The War effort continues with women recruited to the Home Guard and Ernie Bevin introducing conscription of miners as coal output continues to flag.
There is panic when a new anti aircraft weapon is heard for the first time in London and 173 people die in the crush to enter an air-raid shelter at Bethnal Green tube station.

Art and science

Barnes Wallis's bouncing bomb is used during Operation Chastise - the Dam busters Raid - to destroy three dams in the Ruhr area of Germany. The raid was considered a success, knocking out hydroelectric power, cutting off the water supply to industry and causing devastation through flooding. The operation also, however, cost the allies many lives, and the bouncing bomb was not used again.


The invasion of Sicily is successful thanks to Operation Mincemeat, in which false documents were planted on the body of a dead airman to mislead Germany into thinking that the Allied target was Sardinia. The invasion led to the fall of Mussolini and Italy joining the Allies.
42,000 German civilians are killed in a firestorm in Hamburg caused by the Allied bombing in Operation Gomorrah.

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