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Archive for the ‘Vanessa Bell’ Category

Vanessa and Her Sister, a novel by Priya Parmar exploring the complicated relationship between the two sisters, will be published by Ballantine in 2015. The historical novel will also cover the Bloomsbury Group.

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Susan Sellers, author of the novel Vanessa and Virginia, is spreading the news via Facebook that the Moving Stories Theatrevanessa & virginia play production of the eponymous play based on her novel is sold-out for its current three-week run.

Written by Dr. Elizabeth Wright, the play is on stage at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London, through April 14.

Read more about it — and Susan Sellers:

A screen shot of Susan Sellers' Facebook post about "Vanessa and Virginia"

A screen shot of Susan Sellers’ Facebook post about “Vanessa and Virginia”

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Blogging Woolf is back from a holiday hiatus made longer by a bout with On Being Ill — the virus, not the Virginia Woolf essay published in 1930  by the Hogarth Press. But now that we are back, we recommend a couple of essays for your edification in this new year.

armoury-show-posterThe first, “1913–What year…” by Kathleen Dixon Donnelly on the SuchFriends blog, takes an in-depth look at the New York Armory Show in February 1913, connecting it to Bloomsbury Group painters Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, etc. who closed London’s Second Post-Impressionist Exhibit early so many of the paintings could be sent on to New York.

Donnelly promises to post updates all year on what was happening to writers in 1913. You can also check out the Such Friends page on Facebook.

The second is Blogging Woolf contributor Alice Lowe‘s latest published work, “On the Road Again,” which appears in the current issue of The Feathered Flounder.

Lowe notes that “being the mother of a daughter and the daughter of a mother is a rich source of feathered flounderreflection.” In this latest poignant essay, she draws on those dual experiences, as well as “from those other gems, memory and aging” to wonder whether she has encountered the beginning of her dotage.

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My two-week stint doing research at the NYPL Berg Collection is over, and letters and rare books took up the last two days of my Short-Term Research Fellowship on the topic of the Bloomsbury pacifists.

The letters were written by Vanessa Bell and Lytton Strachey to a variety of correspondents, including Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Duncan Grant and Nick Bagenal. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read them in their original form, taking time to decipher the usually elegant handwriting of the letter writers and savoring the idea of a world where friends and colleagues posted missives to each other on a regular, if not daily, basis.

It was special to be able to touch and handle papers nearly 100 years old that belonged to writers and artists I have read so much about and admire so greatly.

It was also invaluable to have access to such rare books as Clive Bell’s Civilization (1928), Julian Bell: Essays, Poems and Letters (1938) and David Garnett’s A Rabbit in the Air: Notes from a Diary Kept While Learning to Handle an Aeroplane (1932).

So while I knew that my research would come to an end, I felt sad when it did. I even felt a little lost when I turned the last page of Garnett’s book, realized I had no more documents or books in my queue and knew that I would soon be on my way back to my regular everyday life in Ohio.

I will miss the grandeur of the NYPL’s Schwartzman building, the luxurious silence of the Berg reading room, the helpful friendliness of librarians Anne Garner and Rebecca Filner, the expertise of Curator Isaac Gewirtz and the technical expertise of a regular volunteer and Yeats scholar named Neal who eagerly came to my aid when my laptop refused to reboot after loading some troublesome and unwanted Microsoft updates.

I hope all of those mentioned above will consider this an official public thank you for helping me have such a valuable experience.

Here are links to past posts about my research at the Berg and the Morgan Library & Museum:

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Last week, NYPL Berg Collection librarian Rebecca Filner gave me the hot tip that I could find unpublished letters written by Vanessa Bell to Maynard Keynes at the Morgan Library & Museum. Today I went there to read them.

The routine at the Morgan is different than that at the Berg. At the Morgan, one is required to lock one’s personal items in a small locker, wash one’s hands, then read a full page of instructions about handling the rare materials before any are handed over. Then the materials come to you one slim folder at a time, after being checked and logged by the librarian. When you are ready for another, you let her know, and she picks up the current folder and brings a new one. As a reader, you never carry the materials.

At the Berg, one is brought as many as five folders at once and just expected to be careful. There is no hand washing procedure, and the librarian locks your purse in a bookcase after one has checked other items in the NYPL cloakroom. Sometimes I returned the materials to the librarian’s desk; other times she picked them up from me.

Today at the Morgan, I focused on letters written during World War I. About 17 of them connected to the Bloomsbury pacifists, the topic of my Short-Term Research Fellowship. But other tidbits included in these letters caught my eye as well. Here are a few of them:

  • Vanessa gave her children haircuts and shaped the hair of one of her servants into what sounded like a stylish bob (May 1916).
  • Vanessa complained that a vist from Ottoline Morrel was so taxing she couldn’t spend more than one weekend a year with her (August 1916).
  •  Both Vanessa and Clive asked Keynes to look over their investments and make suggestions for ways they could maximize their income (February 1918).
  • Keynes invested in David “Bunny” Garnett’s bee keeping enterprise (February 1918).
  • Wood was so scarce during the latter part of the war that Vanessa asked Keynes to save packing cases from a recent wine purchase for her to use as rabbit hutches (February 1918).
  • Vanessa couldn’t imagine anything more hellish than Keynes’s upcoming three-day trip to America (October 1918).

The bit that popped out at me the most, though, was the contrast between Vanessa’s letters to her sister Virginia written shortly before the birth of her daughter Angelica on Christmas Day 1918 and those written to Keynes. The letters to Virginia were filled with a panicky rush of last-minute requests and instructions regarding the upcoming birth and the care of Vanessa’s two older children. Her letters to Keynes are measured and sedate, calculated to reassure him that all is well.

To Keynes, she writes that Duncan Grant (Angelica’s father, although Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell played that role for many years) is quite anxious to be useful around the house. She mentions that he has cut up wood for the fire and done other necessary chores, while agreeing to stay on until after the baby is born.

Vanessa also boasts that Grant is spoiling her. She says she spends the mornings in bed, is only allowed downstairs for lunch, then is kept quiet in the drawing room for the rest of the day. Best of all, she notes, Grant never lets on that this domestic pampering routine is the least bit boring.

I found it interesting the way Vanessa changed the tone and content of her letters, based upon her audience.

Read more about my time at the Berg for my NYPL Short-Term Research Fellowship:

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Door to the Berg Collection

After four hours of reading mostly unpublished letters from Vanessa Bell to her sister Virginia Woolf today, I felt sad.

The letters — and there are 371 of them dating from 1910 to 1940 in the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection – are full of details about living arrangements, house guests, child rearing, artistic endeavors and personality conflicts.

But the thing that stuck out to me today — which is well off my research topic of the Bloomsbury pacifists — was how much Vanessa had to juggle. And that made me sad.

The letters written during the World War I years, which was also the period of time in which she had young children at home, had the biggest impact on me. In them, I saw how much she did to keep so many balls in the air at once.

Vanessa kept the household running smoothly, doing her best to economize on household expenses such as coal and foodstuffs and to work around such challenges as war rationing and exiting servants.  She kept the men in her life, Clive Bell and Duncan Grant and David “Bunny” Garnett, happy and productive, and she helped Grant and Garnett obtain conscientious objector status. She raised three children, instructing at least two of them in French and music, along with the similarly aged children of friends.

To me, several of the most poignant letters were written shortly before Christmas 1918, after the Armistice but before Vanessa gave birth to her third child and only daughter, Angelica. Those letters, obviously written hastily, with last-minute thoughts scribbled up the margin and across the top of the page, were full of instructions to Virginia about the children.

Virginia had generously agreed to care for Vanessa’s two eldest, Julian and Quentin, when she gave birth to her third child. And Vanessa was frantic to convey her gratitude, as well as her advice – about using nightlights and administering bromide and promising to ship additional clean clothing for the boys after their arrival.

While writing the last of the letters, on Christmas Eve, Vanessa went into labor. Angelica was born on Christmas Day.

Even then, there was no real rest for Vanessa. For she had guests. Garnett was at Charleston Farmhouse on the day of the birth, and Maynard Keynes was a houseguest as well.

More amazing than all this is that on top of the busy life as a wife and mother that Vanessa led, she produced art, wonderful art. How did she find the time and energy for it all?

All I can say is, she was a woman. And that is what women do. Isn’t it?

Read more about my time at the Berg for my NYPL Short-Term Research Fellowship:

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Night and Day: Monk’s House, Rodmell (2011), an original cut paper collage by Amanda White that is part of her Writers' Houses series. See more at http://www.amandawhite-contemporarynaiveart.com.

Woolf and collage, anyone?

That was the question that came up on the VWoolf Listserv a few weeks ago. Other list members promptly and generously shared information on the topic of Woolf and modern collage.

Here are the highlights of that discussion, along with some details I have added:

  • Brenda Helt cited Woolf’s writing about the 1910 and 1912 Post-Impressionist Exhibitions and the Omega Workshop.  Specifically, she mentioned the
    sometimes snide and snarky commentary” in Volumes 1 and 2 of Woolf’s letters, indexed as “Post-impressionist Exhibition” and “Omega Workshop,” and “her later more complex and appreciative understanding” included in the chapters on Post-impressionism and the Omega in Woolf’s biography of Roger Fry.
  • Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and other post-impressionists worked with collage. Both used collage in objects sold at the Omega Workshops and in decorating furniture at Charleston Farmhouse and elsewhere.
  • Woolf knew of early Cubist collage, but would have been most familiar with applied arts such as collage through Bell’s and Grant’s work, as well as the work of other Bloomsbury artists.
  • Three examples of Bell’s and Grant’s collages from 1912, 1914 and 1915 are included in the exhibition catalog for A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections. You can read a post about the last stop on that exhibit’s 2010 cross-country tour here. Collage examples in the exhibition catalogue include:
    • Bell’s Composition (1914), oil and gouache on cut-and-pasted paper, Page 124
    • Grant’s In Memoriam: Rupert Brooke (1915), oil and collage on panel, Page 176
    • Grant’s Design for a Fire Screen (1912), watercolor, gouache and collage, Page 220
  • Christopher Reed, associate professor of English and visual culture at Penn State, discusses and shows examples of others in Bloomsbury Rooms: Modernism, Subculture, Domesticity. They include:
    • Grant’s On the Mantelpiece, 46 Gordon Square (1914), oil and collage on board, Page 149.
    • Roger Fry’s Essay in Abstract Design (1915), oil and collaged bus tickets, Page 155.
    • Grant’s Abstract Kinetic Collage Painting with Sound (1914), gouache, watercolor and collage on paper, Page 156
    • Grant’s Abstract (1914-5), paint, fabric and collaged paper on board, Page 158
    • Grant’s Interior at 46 Gordon Square (1914-5), collaged paper on board, Page 159
  • In Bloomsbury Rooms, Reed discusses Grant’s use of a piece of foil from a cigarette pack liner in In Memoriam as its only collaged element and says it is echoed in Woolf’s review of Edward Marsh’s 1918 memoir on Brooke (161). He also mentions that reviewers unanimously dismissed Grant’s abstract collages in the 1915 Vorticist exhibition, calling them a foreign joke (162).
  • Other important research sources on this topic include:
    • Frances Spalding’s biographies of Bell and of Grant
    • Simon Watney’s The Art of Duncan Grant
    • Douglas Turnbaugh’s Duncan Grant and the Bloomsbury Group
    • Richard Shone’s The Art of Bloomsbury
    • Bell and Nicholson’s Charleston

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Vanessa and Virginia, a new play about Virginia Woolf based on the eponymous novel by Susan Sellers, will be on stage at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11 and 12 at the Byre Theatre at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Written by Elizabeth Wright, the play includes original music and is peformed before a backdrop of projected images inspired by Vanessa Bell’s paintings.

It has been invited to Poland, Germany, Greece and across the UK for performances in theatre spaces, at literary conferences and at site-specific locations. It began touring in France last September and will be on the road until September of this year.

Sellers‘ novel provides a fictional account of the sibling rivalry between Virginia Woolf and the painter Vanessa Bell. She is a member of the at St. Andrews’ School of English.

Susan Sellers

A book signing at 6:45 p.m. in the foyer of the theater will preceed the play. A question and answer session with director Emma Gersch, the playwright and the cast will follow it.

The next day, a Virginia Woolf symposium will be held to mark the publication of a new edition of Virginia Woolf’s writing by Cambridge University Press, according to Blogging Woolf reader Kathleen Dixon Donnelly.

The symposium will be held in the School of English, Lawson Lecture Room, Kennedy Hall, The Scores, from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It will include talks on:

  • the relevance of Virginia Woolf for the 21st century
  • Nicole Kidman in The Hours and
  • creating the stage play Vanessa and Virginia.

Members of the school’s Literary Society and Feminist Society can obtain discounted tickets. Visit the Byre Theatre website for more details on performances and tickets.

Watch a preview of the play and an interview with the director. Read more about the novel, including a review by Alice Lowe, a frequent contributor to Blogging Woolf.

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Tomorrow, you can decorate your own Bloomsbury plate. Yesterday I heard a lecture on Bloomsbury artists.

These are some of the final activities during the final days of the final stop on the cross-country tour of the traveling exhibit, A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections.

The exhibit will be at the Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., through Sept. 26. After that, all the artwork, books, fabric and furniture will be carefully packed and returned to their owners. Artist Jasper Johns, for example, will be reunited with his Omega Workshop pottery.

When Benjamin Harvey, associate professor of art history at Mississippi State University,  reviewed the exhibit for Blogging Woolf nearly one year ago, he recommended that Bloomsbury afficionados “make every effort to see it.”

Riders on the storm

Early Thursday evening, I took his advice, setting off from Ohio to Pennsylvania in a violent rainstorm — the one that brought tornadoes to the East Coast — with the expectation that we would view the Bloomsbury exhibit the next day. We did, despite the unfortunate weather that kept us on the edge of our car seat the entire way.

It was worth the trip.

I have been to Charleston Farmhouse and Monk’s House, so I have seen many original works of Bloomsbury art. But this exhibit was different. It displays a large collection of Bloomsbury art together in a gallery setting, which gave me the chance to step back and appreciate it one piece at a time without feeling overwhelmed or rushed by tour guides.

As a result, I felt a new appreciation for the artistry of Vanessa Bell. I clearly saw that her artwork stands on its own rather than in the shadow of Duncan Grant.

Giant canvas greeting

© 2010 by Nasher Museum Blogs

Visitors to the Penn State exhibit are initially greeted by a giant Duncan Grant painting that depicts an exuberant male nude holding cymbals. Although it dwarfs even the tallest art lover, the painting is just one part of the 1937 original oil on canvas, which was commissioned to hang over the massive fireplace in the first-class lounge of the Queen Mary, according to Christopher Reed, associate professor of English and visual culture at Penn State and co-curator for the exhibit.

Along with other commissioned designs, such as upholstery fabric of cotton velveteen patterned with an obviously Bloomsbury design, and carpeting, it was never used on the ship. Cunard, the ship’s owner, changed course and decided to use an art deco look for the first-class quarters instead.

Grant’s massive painting featuring the nude cymbal player and other elements was discovered years later in the barn of Kenneth Clark, English art historian. It was covered with pigeon droppings, so had to undergo extensive restoration before it was fit for exhibition, Reed explained.

Drawn into Bloomsbury

A multi-media display greets visitors to the Bloomsbury exhibit.

A multi-media display introduces visitors to the actual exhibit, and it draws them into the Bloomsbury scene with its life-size graphics of a Charleston Farmhouse bedroom. Just below the window ledge is  a video screen where a slide presentation shows scenes from the early 20th-century era, photographs of Bloomsbury Group members, examples of their art and quotes that help illuminate their thinking.

Even the display tables that hold important artifacts are decorated in Bloomsbury style. They were loaned to the Penn State exhibit by Cornell. Inside the glass cases resting on the decorated display tables are letters from Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry and others, as well as numerous volumes published by the Hogarth Press. These included Virginia’s novels with dust jackets decorated by Vanessa Bell, along with the English translations of the works of Sigmund Freud.

Influence of Bloomsbury artists

Joyce Robinson and Christopher Reed, co-curators of the Bloomsbury exhibit at Penn State

In his noon lecture, Christopher Reed, associate professor of English and visual culture at Penn State and co-curator for the exhibit, discussed the influence of Bloomsbury artists on early twentieth-century thinking about art and the art of home decoration.

He also noted their appreciation for the unique imperfections of handmade art – from Omega Workshop pottery to the utilitarian shutters painted by Vanessa Bell.

While some items that were included in earlier installations were not part of the Palmer exhibit — such as Woolf’s writing desk decorated by Quentin Bell — three paintings that did not appear in earlier exhibits are part of this one. All three were loaned by an individual who viewed an earlier exhibit and noted that he had several paintings by the same artist at home.

The three turned out to be the work of Duncan Grant. They are:

  • “Hatbox”
  • “Still Life with Jug”
  • “Paul Roche in the Bath”

Joyce Robinson, curator at the Palmer, gave visitors insight into how Vanessa and Virginia worked together. She quoted Woolf as saying the sisters had the same eyes but wore different spectacles.

Palmer's Bloomsbury bookmark

In particular, she cited the edition of Kew Gardens decorated by Vanessa Bell. Robinson said Vanessa and Virginia worked on the layout together, making sure that Vanessa’s decorations and Virginia’s hand-set type complimented each other both visually and symbolically.

More on Woolf and knitting

Another interesting item from the exhibit, in light of the ongoing discussion on the VWoolf Listserv regarding Woolf and knitting,  is a pencil drawing by Roger Fry depicting his daughter, titled “Pamela Knitting and Reading.”

Reed, author of Bloomsbury Rooms: Modernism, Subculture, and Domesticity, said some argue that paintings depicting Virginia knitting really show her engaged in book binding.

Welcome commodification at the museums

Bloomsbury 2010 tattoo

To view more artwork from the exhibit visit the Nasher Museum exhibit page. The Duke University museum was the first stop on the tour. You can also purchase the exhibit catalogue from Cornell.

However, unless you make a trip to the Palmer soon, you will have no chance to get the freebies they gave out: an exhibit bookmark and a Bloomsbury 2010 temporary tattoo that features Woolf. I can’t wait to apply mine.

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Some people don’t like stories written from a dog’s point of view, but I tend to enjoy their whimsical approach to life.

Take Virginia Woolf’s Flush, for example. It’s more than a dog’s story. It’s a literary love story. And it’s a study of a complicated father-daughter relationship somewhat like Woolf’s own.

In it, Woolf also includes allusions to John Ruskin‘s descriptions of Italy, all told from the perspective of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel named Flush.

A couple of years ago, J.F. Englert, author of a series of charming mystery books ostensibly written by a Labrador retriever named Randolph, sent me two, A Dog About Town and A Dog Among Diplomats, in the hopes that I would blog about them. Hoping that I could find a connection between his books and Woolf’s Flush, I thought I would too.

But I haven’t until now. Somehow I needed a third canine narrator to flesh out my little post. I found the missing link when The Guardian wrote a review of a The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O’Hagan.

Not only does O’Hagan’s book feature a doggie narrator. It also starts out at Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex. There, the narrator, while still a pup, discusses his life with Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. And that little tidbit gave me the hook I needed to write this.

It stretches the imagination to visualize a dog moving from a life with Vanessa and Duncan to a life with Marilyn Monroe, but what the heck. Is that any more of a stretch than a dog who narrates novels?

Such books are a fun read. But for now I think I’ll stick to Randolph, who has a new book out. This one is called A Dog at Sea. Sounds like a perfect summer read.

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