Vanessa Bell presents a problem for the history of art in Britain. As a member of the Bloomsbury group she is famous, yet her art itself is relatively little known, and there is no consensus as to whether it can be taken seriously. This essay examines the obstacles to a reassessment of her work and their implications for the wider field of British art studies. Challenging the worst stereotype of Bell as silent, apolitical and derivative, it proposes new approaches to her art through the idea of conversation, which recurs in her painting and letters. Through detailed analysis of images, primary texts and the long-term critical debate, it draws attention to the complexities of Bell's response to modernist art and theory, and to the critical, cosmopolitan nature of her practice.