Robert Anning Bell was born on 14 April 1863 and educated at University College School in London. At the age of fifteen he was articled for two years to an architect uncle before studying at the Royal Academy Schools, the Westminster School of Art (under Fred Brown), in Paris (under Aimé Morot) and, later, in Italy. On his return from Paris, he shared a studio with portrait sculptor George Frampton and together they developed a line in hand-coloured plaster reliefs, in imitation of Della Robbia. His early architectural training and his close friendship with architects and sculptors made him the ideal artist for decorative schemes, and by the eighteen-nineties he had become an important figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement. His early illustrative work, in pen and ink and watercolour, includes a number of Shakespeare-related volumes: Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare (1899), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1895), The Tempest (1901) and Shakespeare’s Heroines (1901).
These display a concern for the page as a whole of flatness and lightness similar to those found in Walter Crane and Charles Ricketts. From 1894, he was on the staff of the School of Architecture, University College, Liverpool, later becoming a Professor of both University College, Liverpool, later becoming a Professor of both Glasgow School of Art (1918-24). He was also an honorary associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects (1916), and Master of the Art Workers’ Guild (1921).ß He began to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1885 (ARA 1914, RA 1922) and at the New English Art Club in 1888 (NEAC 1892), while his solo shows included one at the Fine Art Society in 1907. He was also organised a number of international exhibitions of arts and crafts. His paintings were worked in both oil and tempera, but with an increasing preference for watercolour he became an active member of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colour (ARWS 1901, RWS 1904) and, in 1925, wrote an essay in praise of the medium (Old Water-Colour Society’s Club, Volume 11). His death on 27 November 1933 was followed in March 1934 by a memorial exhibition at the Fine Art Society.