Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

Anne Olivier Bell MBE

Discussion in 'WWII Era Obituaries (non-military service)' started by GRW, Aug 9, 2018.

  1. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist WW2|ORG Editor

    Oct 26, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Stirling, Scotland
    "AS ONE of the last surviving members of the Monuments Men, a group of volunteers responsible for recovering artworks stolen by Nazis, art historian Anne Olivier Bell had the distinction of being Britain’s only female member.
    Aged 30 Bell was approached by “a posh young man” at a party who inquired if she would be interested in joining the legendary group, made up of the world’s finest curators, art historians and archivists.
    For the next 15 months she became part of an international rescue mission to track down stolen relics hidden in monasteries, castles and salt mines across Germany and was tasked with returning them to their rightful owners.
    The post-war effort, dubbed “the greatest treasure hunt in history” was turned into a film directed by George Clooney, who became Bell’s friend.
    But that wasn’t her only claim to fame.
    In 1977 Bell made waves in the literary world editing five volumes of the influential 20th-century writer Virginia Woolf’s diaries.
    She was also one of the last surviving links to the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of intellectuals and artists including EM Forster and John Maynard Keynes, who were prominent at the beginning of the last century and would regularly meet in Bloomsbury, London.
    Art and literature were her lifelong passions and in 2014 she was awarded an MBE for contributions to both.
    Born in London, Anne Olivier Popham had an appreciation of art instilled from a young age.
    Her father was AE Popham, a distinguished authority on Italian art at the British Museum, while her mother Brynhild was a cousin of actor Sir Laurence Olivier.
    After attending St Paul’s Girls’ School she dreamt of becoming an actress.
    But following an unsuccessful audition at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama she abandoned this and in 1934 studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art.
    She fell in love with artist Graham Bell who was an RAF pilot during the war.
    The pair planned to marry once he divorced his wife but in a cruel twist of fate Bell was killed in a training accident in August 1943.
    Then later, while working as a research assistant at the Ministry of Information, the bereaved Anne was given renewed purpose when invited to join the Monuments Men.
    Bell would later say: “My work in Lives remembered the Ministry of Information bored me, I was concerned about all the bombing and destruction and had something of value to offer so I agreed to go.”
    So she travelled to Germany and joined with more than 300 others in locating and recovering five million paintings, sculptures and rare books confiscated by the Nazi regime.
    Returning to England in 1947 she joined the Arts Council of Britain where she met Virginia Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell (no relation to Graham Bell)."

Share This Page