Jacob Bell was excited by the opportunity to act as a patron, adviser and friend to a network of artists. He helped them with business matters, he gathered them around him for social events, and encouraged them with commissions. Bell also moved in wider artistic, musical and theatrical circles, and often hosted parties with guests including Charles Dickens and George Cruikshank. He also led parties to the opera, including the first performances in England of Verdi's La Traviata, Donizetti's Don Pasquale and many more.
In 1891, William Ince recalled his impressions of Bell's house: 'The drawing room...was a gallery of art. The walls were hung, or rather hidden, by a collection of modern paintings.' An undated inventory of Bell's art collection records 156 paintings, eight sculptures and a number of miscellaneous prints.
Although the majority of his collection was sold at the Foster's Sale on 3 May 1860 and at Christie's on 25 May 1860, sixteen of the paintings from Bell's collection were bequeathed to the Nation. This collection was exhibited to the public at an exhibition held for the benefit of the Marylebone Literary and Scientific Institution, of which Bell was president. The exhibition raised £200 and the Institution was subsequently relieved of two thirds of its liabilities.
With the exception of Rosa Bonheur's The Horse Fair (National Gallery), Bell's collection is now owned by Tate. The collection reflects Bell's strong friendships with a number of artists, notably WP Frith and E Landseer. To Landseer in particular Bell became more than just a patron, acting as his trusted advisor and financial manager for twenty years.
Image above: Jacob Bell's signature