Bloomsbury artists, such as Vanessa Bell (Woolf’s sister), Duncan Grant and Roger Fry continually depicted their friends or lovers (the distinction was rarely clear) reading. Grant’s portrait of his lover and the father of modern economics, John Maynard Keynes, is a good example. Bloomsbury was a very literary kind of art movement – despite its claim to having imported the French ‘Post Impressionism’ of Cézanne and Matisse to London with Fry’s 1910-12 ‘Artquake’ of exhibitions and criticism – and Woolf was enthroned at the head of this literary tendency.
This exhibition will show Grant’s, Fry’s and Bell’s portraits of Virginia Woolf. Look out for Bell’s masterpiece of her sister knitting, crouched into an orange armchair. The subject of Women knitting was an established quasi-portrait form, carrying a great deal of gendered baggage. Bell’s is a psychologically acute portrait of a feminist author knowingly appropriating genres of female domesticity. Woolf’s eyes have been elided, but the portrait captures an essential feeling of her essence. Bloomsbury members often commented that their portraits were able to do just that and, arguably, Grant and Bell really excelled more in painting portraits than in other modes.
Frances Spalding, biographer of Grant and long-standing Bloomsbury historian, is curating the show, and has included photographs of Woolf by Man Ray as well as snaps by Bloomsbury members showing the author’s rarely seen private life. There will also be a revealing glimpse into Woolf’s political thought, something rarely discussed.
No longer able to endure debilitating mental illness, Woolf eventually committed suicide. In her curtailed life, she transformed the potential of English literature with novels such as To the Lighthouse or the chorally experimental The Waves. She propogated the essentials of feminism with essays such as A Room of One’s Own, entertained T S Eliot and collected around her some of the most compelling figures in twentieth-century culture. This exhibition is a must for those with a literary or painterly head and promises to be a cultural highlight of the summer.
|What||Virginia Woolf: Life, Art and Vision, National Portrait Gallery|
National Portrait Gallery
St Martin's Place, London, WC2H 0HE | MAP
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
10 Jul 14 – 26 Oct 14, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book via the National Portrait Gallery|