Biography

Birth date: 01 December 1878
Birth place: Australia: Victoria, Melbourne, Kew
Death date: 22 October 1966
Death place: Australia: Victoria, Melbourne, Toorak
Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
Unit: 4th Australian Division

George Frederick Henry Bell was the fourth of six children. Educated at Kew High School, he took painting classes from George Coates. In 1896 he enrolled at the National Gallery of Victoria's school of art where he studied for six years under Bernard Hall and Frederick McCubbin. Also an accomplished musician, Bell taught briefly at the National Gallery School, but in 1904 left for Paris, studying first under Jean Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian, then spending time with Spanish teacher Castelucha, also attending Colarossi's and La Grande Chaumiére. Bell then headed to London and studied at St Ives and in 1907 was a foundation member of the Modern Society of Portrait Painters, where he exhibited until 1915. In 1908 he joined the Chelsea Art Club and enjoyed a London life surrounded by Australian expatriates, exhibiting portraits internationally, including the Royal Academy.

With the outbreak of the First World War Bell tried to enlist, but his circulatory problems and flat feet saw him rejected as medically unfit. From 1915-1918, he worked at a munitions factory, and taught at a secondary school. However, his reputation as a skilled portraitist and landscape painter secured his position as an official war artist. Appointed on 5 October 1918, Bell proceeded to France with the rank of honorary lieutenant and attached to the 4th Australian Division.

He reached the Western Front too late to witness any fighting, though he was there when the armistice was signed. As a result, like many other Australian official war artists, most of his pictures concentrated on the aftermath of the war. Bell depicted the devastated landscapes where the major battles had taken place as well as the day-to-day life of the troops. He did not seek to glorify either war or those engaged in it, but rather to create a record of the war's destructiveness. Subjects included the equipment of war, the defeated enemy, and the ruins of the villages and farms. Bell was keen to show the soldiers indulging in their favourite pastimes, such as gambling and attending race meetings, but also completed a number of oil portraits of senior 4th Division staff.

Bell worked in France and Belgium from October 1918 to April 1919 and returned there again in July 1919. His commission was terminated 31 December 1919 and he returned to Melbourne in 1920, where he continued to complete occasional commissions for the Australian War Memorial. Bell became increasingly involved with the Melbourne arts community and was a well-known art teacher during the 1930s and '40s, as well as an influential promoter of the modern art movement in Australia, founding and presiding over the Contemporary Art Society. In 1966, George Bell was awarded an Order of the British Empire for his service to Australian art, and died later that year in Toorak, Victoria.

Rolls and Awards

Collection Items

Art

Sergeant William 'Rusty' Ruthven

Portrait of Sergeant William 'Rusty' Ruthven (1893-1970) of the 22nd Battalion, AIF. Sergeant William Ruthven was awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery and initiative in action in Ville-sur-Ancre in France during the First World War. Born in Collingwood, Victoria, William Ruthven...

ART03589

Australian official war artists 1916-1918

Depicts many Australian official war artists who were attached to different divisions of the AIF during the First World War, in a group portrait. The painting was originally owned by Cyril Steele of Melbourne. It was noted that the painting was considered to be an example of Coates' work that was...

ART15334

Victory

Depicts George Bell's entry for the State Library of Victoria mural competition, held in 1922. The mural design was one of 13 entrants by artists including Hilda Rix Nicholas, George Lambert, A H Fullwood, Napier Waller, H S Power Charles Wheeler and John Longstaff. H S Power was the winner of the ...

ART19836

Colonel Richard Dowse

Portrait of Lieutenant Colonel Richard Dowse, DSO, Assistant Adjutant and Quarter Master General, 4th Division AIF. One of the 12 portraits by Bell delivered to Australia House, London, June 1919. Dowse also served with B Company during the Boer War and served as Captain and Adjutant at the...

ART00097

Brigadier General Sydney Herring

Depicts a portrait of Brigadier-General Sydney Charles Edgar Herring (1881-1951), DSO, Commanding 13th Brigade, in full uniform, wearing a cap. Herring was born in Granville, Sydney and after a private school education, became a real estate agent. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the...

ART00098

Brigadier General Raymond Leane

A portrait of Brigadier General Raymond Lionel Leane (1878- 1962) CB, CMG, DSO and Bar, MC, MID. General Raymond Lionel Leane was the Commanding Officer of the 12th Infantry Brigade in Gallipoli, France and Belgium. Born in Prospect, South Australia, Leane worked for a wholesale and retail business...

ART00100

Lieutenant Colonel Henry Murray

Depicts a portrait of Lieutenant Colonel Henry William Murray (1883-1966) VC, CMG, DSO and Bar, DCM, MID, Commanding the 4th Machine Gun Battalion, AIF in France and was awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions at Guendecourt. One of the 12 portraits delivered by Bell to Australia House, June 1919....

ART00101

Major General Ewen Sinclair-MacLagan

Portrait of Major-General Ewen George Sinclair-MacLagan (1868-1948) CB, DSO, MID, Commanding 4th Division AIF. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Ewan George Sinclair-MacLagan served in the militia before being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Border Regiment in 1889, serving in India and...

ART00102

Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Salisbury

Portrait of Lieutenant Colonel Alfred George Salisbury (1885-1942), CMG, DSO and Bar, Commanding 50th Battalion, AIF. He was appointed Captain in the 9th Battalion and subsequently Commanding Officer of the 50th Battalion in 1916. His appointment with the AIF was terminated in 1919.

ART00103

Brigadier General William Burgess

Portrait of Brigadier-General William Livingstone Hatchwell Burgess (1880-1964), CMG, DSO, Commanding 4th Division Artillery, AIF.Born in England, William Burgess emigrated to New Zealand in the 1890s and worked as a carpenter and engineer before joining the New Zealand Volunteer Force, serving...

ART00104

Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Lavarack

Portrait of Lieutenant-General J Dudley Lavarack (1885-1957) CMG, DSO, 4 Division AIF. He was the general officer commanding the Australian 7th Division. Born in Brisbane, he was an officer of the Royal Australian Artillery, receiving his first commission in 1905. He served in France in 1915,...

ART00105

Colonel George Barber

Portrait of Colonel George Walter Barber (1868-1951) , CB, DSO, MID , Deputy Director Medical Services (DDMS), Australian Corps during the First World War. Barber was born in Lancashire, England and came to Australia in 1894. He was a Government Medical Officer and Medical Officer of Health in...

ART00106

Major General William Glasgow

Portrait of Major-General (later Sir) Thomas William Glasgow, CB, CMG, DSO, Commanding 1st Division AIF and had previously served in the South African War. Born in Queensland, Glasgow worked as a junior clerk in the office of a mining company in Gympie. He joined the Wide Bay Regiment, Queensland...

ART00107

Damaged tank near Le Cateau

Depicts a damaged British 'male' tank crashed on an embankment of a sunken road near Le Cateau, France. The tank was damaged during the Battle of Cambrai.

ART00108

Tank

Depicts an image of a British Mark IV 'male' tank resting in a field. The Mark IV male tanks carried 6-pounder guns, in contrast to the 'female' tanks which carried Lewis guns. There was one male to every three female tank. The role of the female tanks was to protect the male tanks while the males...

ART00109

Dinant: bridge repaired by Huns

Panoramic view of the village of Dinant in central Belgium, covered in snow. In the centre of the scene is a bridge spanning the river Meuse, which was repaired by Germans during the First World War.

ART00113

Tank park, St Benin, preparing for attack on Landrecies

Depicts a number of British tanks at St Benin, in France, preparing for an attack on Landrecies in France.

ART00114

13th Field Ambulance Ward, Farrieres

Depicts the interior of the 13th Field Ambulance Ward at Farrieres in Belgium during the First World War.

ART00117

German Battery lines destroyed by shell fire near Basuel October 1918

Depicts destroyed wagons and German battery lines destroyed by shellfire near Basuel in France, during the First World War.

ART00118

Horse and mule sale, Dinant, February 1919

Depicts a horse and mule sale in the sale yards in the Belgian village of Dinant, with crowds of people, during the First World War.

ART00126

Church of La Haie, Meneresse, October 1918

Depicts the interior of a war damaged church of La Haie, looking towards the apse and alter at Meneresse in France during the First World War.

ART00128

Official Australian war artists

Depicts the sketch outline and silhouettes of a group of Australian official artists who were attached to the different divisions of the AIF during the First World War. Depicted in the painting are, standing l-r; John Longstaff (1), Charles Bryant (2), George Lambert (3), Henry Fullwood (4), James...

ART50017

Race meeting with the General's chargers

Depicts a number of soldiers, a crowd of people and horses at a race meeting. In 1919 Bell was asked to produce this sketch, with Captain H S Smart noting; '...as regards Bell's picture. I saw his sketches and he is very keen to paint the race meeting which seemed to me an excellent subject and it...

ART50037

Soldier's Head

Depicts a head and shoulders portrait of a young Australian soldier from the First World War.

ART50038

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Christie

Depicts a portrait of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Christie (1883-1957) , DSO and BAR, Commanding 51st battalion, at Villers- Bretonneux and later Air Commander, RAAF, wearing a slouch hat. He served with the 5th Light Horse Regiment in 1914 and with the 51st battalion in 1916, the year he was...

ART00099

Destroyed railway line near Busigny

View of the war damaged landscape and destroyed railway line near Busigny, the Lys Area, on the Western Front in 1918.

ART00112

Railway viaduct destroyed by Germans, St Benin (also known as `Railways destroyed by Germans, St Benin')

Depicts the war damaged and bombed railway viaduct near the French village of St Benin on the Western Front during the First World War. George Bell (1878-1966) studied at the National Gallery of Victoria School, Melbourne from 1896 until 1901 and during the First World War he worked at a boy's...

ART00127

A digger

Depicts a portrait of an Australian 'Digger', wearing a slouch hat , and is possibly a portrait of the soldier Private Stewart.

ART03591

Laying the duckboards, France 1917

Depicts soldiers from a Pioneer unit laying a duckboard track across muddy fields in a war damaged landscape, probably in the Ypres Salient, France in 1917. The soldiers are wearing sandbags around their legs instead of puttees. A soldier's grave, a tin hat on an upturned rifle are in left...

ART03592

Dugout shelter and damaged tank, near Le Cateau looking towards Pommereuil

Depicts a dugout shelter and wrecked tanks near Le Cateau on the Western Front during the First World War.

ART00119

Church, Le Cateau

Depicts the ruined and war damaged church at Le Cateau, Somme area on the Western Front, during the First World War.

ART00123

Ruined farm near St Souplet

Depicts a war damaged farm and outbuildings near St Souplet, on the Somme, Western Front during the First World War.

ART00122

Le Cateau

View of the village of Le Cateau, with ruined and war damaged buildings, trucks on the roadway and a church spire. It was a village behind the Hindenburg Line, captured by Australians in November 1918.

ART00111

Heavy guns waiting for tractors near Ors France

Depicts a number of heavy guns waiting for tractors near Ors in France , on the Western Front during the First World War.

ART00129

Railway bridge at St Souplet

Drawing of a badly damaged railway bridge, with torn railway tracks at St Souplet, near the Somme, in France. Below the bridge is a roadway , with troops, horese and carts passing underneath.

ART00110

CO's bivouac, DAC at St Souplet (Horace McKeown)

Depicts Horace Henry McKeowan, a Lieutenant with the First Light Horse, and later a Captain with 4th Division Artillery, sitting in a tent and reading a newspaper or some military papers at St Souplet on the Western Front during the First World War.

ART00130

Captured German howitzer near Catillon

Depicts an image of captured German howitzers behind the war damaged village of Catillon, near the Somme, France in 1918.

ART00120

District Headquarters, guard tents, Catillon

Depicts two tents, with several officers seated or standing in front, underneath shady trees at Catillon-sur-Sambre on the Western Front. Beside them on the roadway is a truck containing supplies.

ART00116

St Souplet

Depicts an image of St Souplet, near the Somme on the Western Front during the First World War. George Bell (1878-1966) studied at the National Gallery of Victoria School, Melbourne from 1896 until 1901 and during the First World War he worked at a boy's preparatory school and in munitions. In 1918...

ART00121

Dawn at Hamel, 4 July 1918

Depicts the Battle of Hamel, July 1918. Australian Corps were under the command of General John Monash (the Battle of Hamel was his first operational success; the Australians had artillery support of great precision and co-operated enthusiastically with tanks, some of which acted as supply...

ART03590

Brigadier General Edmund Drake-Brockman

Depicts a portrait of Brigadier General Edmund Drake-Brockman (1884-1949) CMG, DSO, MID, Commanding 4th Brigade AIF. Drake-Brockman was born in Busselton, Western Australia, the son of a surveyor and 20th century explorer. After graduating from school, he served his articles with the solicitor's...

ART00096

Battery of 9.2 howitzers near St Souplet

Depicts a large group of Howitzer field artillery guns resting in a field , with large trees nearby, near St Souplet on the Western Front.

ART00115

German plane brought down near Ors, France November 1918

Depicts a wrecked German aircraft in a field, behind which are a row of trees, near the village of Ors on the Western Front, during the First World War. G

ART00125

Signaller

Depicts an unidentified signaller, seated in the mud, who has been laying a field telephone across the battlefield at Pozieres, France during the First World War.

ART06360

Australian engineers constructing a bridge at Eterpigny (also known as `Battle scene, France 1918' and `The bridge builders')

Depicts a large number of Australian soldiers (engineers) building a small, wooden bridge over a river at Eterpingy, on the Western Front during the First World War.

ART11416

St Souplet: English and American graves, October 1918

Depicts English and Americam war graves in a landscape near the French village of St Souplet during the First World War.

ART00124

Bivouac in the Somme Valley

Depicts two soldiers in front of a tent, one seated and one standing. The tent is in a forest clearing in France. Two additional tents are behind the front one. George Bell was appointed official war artist, attached to the 4th Division A.I.F., working in France from October 1918 until April 1919...

ART92140

Timeline

Date of birth 1878-12-01
Date of death 1966-10-22