Civilian Officer Grade 2, Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA), British Element
Anne Olivier Popham was well prepared for work with the MFAA. From 1934 to 1937, she studied art history at the Courtauld Institute which, combined with her family’s background in art, made her an ideal candidate. Her father, A.E. ‘Hugh’ Popham, was a distinguished authority on Italian drawings and Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, whose collection was transferred for safety to Wales in advance of the German Blitzkrieg on London. Popham’s ‘war work’ began in 1941 when she joined the Ministry of Information as a research assistant in the Photographs and Publications Divisions. Popham’s focus centered around the production of informative booklets on the British war effort published by His Majesty’s Stationary Office. In 1945 she was transferred to the MFAA Branch of the Control Commission for Germany, and in October was stationed at Bünde in Westphalia, the Divisional Headquarters where she coordinated the Branch officers’ work. Popham’s diaries detail her daily activities during this time and are preserved at the Imperial War Museum in London.
Following her return home from Germany in 1947, Popham joined the Art Department of the Arts Council of Great Britain, where she engaged in the preparation of major exhibitions in London and the provinces, and edited their authoritative catalogues. In 1952 she married Quentin Bell, who later became Professor of History and Theory of Art at both Leeds and Sussex Universities. He was the son of Clive and Vanessa Bell (the artist), central figures in the ‘Bloomsbury Group’, of which Vanessa’s sister, Virginia Woolf, was a participant. After raising three children, Popham worked with her husband on research for his 1972 biography of his aunt, Virginia Woolf, and thereafter undertook the editing of Woolf’s complete Diary (five volumes) for which Popham was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and given two Honorary Doctorates.
Anne Olivier Bell currently lives in Sussex close to Charleston, the Bell family home. The Charleston Trust, of which she is senior Trustee, has overseen the restoration of the historic house, which is now open to the public. She is the only known surviving British member of the MFAA, and is still actively associated with the Bloomsbury Group.