The frustrated artist
Jacob Bell displayed interest and some skill in art from early in his life, at least in the form of sketches and doodles. It was perhaps his own frustrated efforts to become an artist that led him to seek out artistic company in later life.
Bell received lessons in oil painting from his cousin, HP Briggs. The young Bell also attended the early morning classes at Henry Sass's drawing school, a private art school in Bloomsbury. A rebel from a young age, he was punished by Sass for mocking a set exercise to draw a large plaster ball. In his autobiography, the artist WP Frith recounts the moment when Sass saw that his exercise had been derided: 'Sir, your father placed you under my care for the purpose of making an artist of you. I can’t do it; I can make nothing of you.' Following this unfortunate experience Bell paid more attention to his scientific studies. However many of his letters, illustrated with lively pen and ink sketches, reflect his continued passion for drawing.
Image above: Jacob Bell couldn’t resist illustrating his letter to Fanny McIan,in 1846. Both Fanny and her husband Robert were Scottish artists.