Robert Anning Bell: Designer

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Robert Anning Bell was a figurative painter, sculptor of reliefs, illustrator and designer. Born 14 April 1863 in London he was originally articled as an architect before studying at the Royal Academy Schools in 1881 and at the Westminster School of Art. In Paris he worked under Aimé Morot and then in London under George Frampton before visiting Italy. From 1885 he was exhibiting at the Royal Academy and was elected an Academician in 1922. From 1903 he was a both a visiting lecturer and external examiner at Glasgow School of Art, and from 1911 he was a professor in the Design Section, travelling up from his home in London when required. From 1918 he was Visiting Director of Studies in the Design School, a post he retained until his death in 1933.

We hold a number of items by Anning Bell across our collections, including a large number of illustrated books produced from the late 19th century for publishers such as Dent, Methuen and George Bell. Mostly these comprise illustrations of traditional fairy tales, or the odes of the great poets. He was also regularly reproduced in The Studio and its corresponding special numbers, as well as appearing in the Yellow Book. Indeed, the second wrapper design for The Studio, in use between 1894 and 1929, was designed by him.

He also wrote on aesthetics and the theory of craft and art. He delivered a lecture on stained glass at the Royal Academy in 1922. In 1926 he provided an essay for Modelling and pottery painting by John Arnold Fleming, and in 1929 for Applied design in the precious metals by Peter Wylie Davidson. His interests were far-ranging: GSA Governors’ Minutes for November 1920 list a number of books on embroidery that were acquired for our library at his instigation.

A particularly beautiful volume in our special collections was published in 1897 by George Bell as part of the Endymion series of the works of the great poets. Poems by John Keats includes numerous illustrations by Anning Bell but it is the binding which is particularly striking. Designed by Anning Bell himself it is in cream cloth with green-printed trellis and vines and red-printed grapes and letters. Even George Bell’s publisher’s device, printed to the rear, was designed by Anning Bell, as were the green-printed endpapers of vertical bands with clover leaves and entwined JK monograms.

We also have a number of copies of his The Tempest, published for Freemantle in 1901. Governors’ Minutes of March 1913 show that they were donated by Anning Bell himself, and one copy bears a letter in his hand dated 1 March 1908 in which he complains about the quality of the reproductions of his illustrations.

 

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