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Archive for August, 2019

Fifty ceramic plates decorated with images of famous women through the ages, from Sappho to Greta Garbo to Virginia Woolf. That describes the Famous Women Dinner Service painted by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant between 1932 and 1934 that is now on display in the Outer Studio at Charleston.

The series includes 12 dancers and actresses, 12 writers, 12 beauties, and 12 queens, each painted on plain white Wedgwood, in addition to a set of period women and two portraits of the artists themselves. The women are surrounded by bold patterned borders, with Duncan as the only man in the series.

History of the dinner service

Bell and Grant painted the dinner service for Kenneth Clark, the art historian and director of the National Gallery, and his wife Jane. As a friend and patron to Bloomsbury artists, he owned a large collection of their work. The dinner service the Clarks commissioned was made up of 140 pieces and was one of the largest commissioned works produced by the Bloomsbury artists.

Charleston

The service remained a part of the Clark household until a 1956 move to Saltwood Castle. Remarkably, it had already survived the Blitz and numerous changes of address before it went missing.

Historians considered the dinner service lost for nearly 40 years. Last year, officials at the Piano Nobile Gallery were shocked when one of its clients admitted to having the entire set, which was quietly returned to the UK.

It is now owned by The Charleston Trust, thanks to the support of Piano Nobile, generous grants from the Heritage Lottery Memorial Fund and Art Fund, and donations from a circle of remarkable women.

The artistic process and feminist philosophy

The dinner service forms an impressive testament to Bell and Grant’s close working partnership at Charleston. They carefully researched each woman they chose, basing most of their paintings on photographs and portraits.

The design, which places women at the center of the conversation, was left to the discretion of Bell and Grant; the two artists did not need final approval from the Clarks.

The exhibit information at Charleston notes that, “The final 48 famous women make an intriguing and unexpected list, one that demonstrates Bloomsbury’s understanding of gender equality” and “anticipates feminist politics.” As Bell noted to Roger Fry in 1932, the project “ought to please the feminists.”

The research

The series features women with “an overlapping strength of character,” according to Hana Leaper, who has completed groundbreaking scholarship on the series. Her scholarly work  has been followed by closer scholarship dedicated to the individual plates.

This research was published in print for the first time last year as From Omega to Charleston: The Art of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant 1910-1934 . The book was produced in partnership with the Paul MellonCentre for Studies in British Art.

Four years earlier, in 2014, curatorial interns at Charleston discovered preliminary sketches for the plates and posted the findings of their research on the Charleston Attic blog. The initial designs were carried out on round scraps of paper and card in pencil and ink.

When the Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens ended last month, I was among the students who took a coach trip to Charleston, where we viewed the entire collection.

Very little is known about women,” wrote Woolf in 1929. “The history of England is the history of the male line, not the female. Of our fathers we know always some fact, some distinction. They were soldiers or they were sailors; they filled that office or they made that law. But of our mothers, our grandmothers, our great-grandmothers, what remains? – Virginia Woolf, “Women and Fiction,” 1929

This figure greets visitors to the Famous Women Dinner Service exhibit on display in the Outer Studio at Charleston.

Overall view of the Famous Women Dinner Service at Charleston

Plates depicting actresses in the Famous Women Dinner Service

Plates depicting writers in the Famous Women Dinner Service. The Vanessa Bell plate is in the second row from the top, far right.

More notable women in the Famous Women Dinner Service

Various famous women from throughout history are depicted in this selection of plates from the Famous Women Dinner Service.

The Virginia Woolf plate in the Famous Women Dinner Service, which was hand-painted by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant between 1932-1934.

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Peter and Jill Seddon, two retired academics from Brighton University, replicated as exactly as possible a trip made by Leonard and Virginia Woolf in the spring of 1928 to Cassis and back. You can follow along with them on Instagram.

The purpose of the Woolfs’ trip was to visit Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant at their house, La Bergere, on the Fontcreuze Estate near Cassis.

Peter, a researcher, artist and intervention artist, and Jill, a pioneer and innovator in design history, posted images and commentary about their 2018 trip each day. You can find their photos on Instagram at @followingthewoolfs

Meanwhile, here are two of the first posts the couple posted, along with a later one. The first two are tagged #followingthewoolfs.

Nobody shall say of me that I have not known perfect happiness. -Virginia Woolf on her first trip to Cassis in 1925.

 

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One of four pieces of furniture painted by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in Cassis and collected by Jerome Hill, the founder of the Camargo Foundation. (1930s?)These four pieces are now in a corridor in the Foundation building since they are considered too frail for use in the other rooms. This example echos much of such work in Carleston House and work they undertook for the Omega Workshops established by Roger Fry. For those unfamilar with it, the Camargo Foundation supports residencies for artists, dancers, film makers, creative writers, as well as residencies for scholars in the humanities working on Francophone projects. #leonardwoolf #virginiawoolfquotes #virginiawoolf #pallenthousegallery #townergallery #pheonixgallerybrighton #brightonmuseumsndartgallery #camargofoundation #charlestontrust #monkshousent #kingscollegearchives

A post shared by Peter & Jill Seddon (@followingthewoolfs) on

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Ethel Smyth: Grasp the Nettle concert poster spotted in Cambridge last month.

Professional contralto and actress Lucy Stevens has developed a new show, Ethel Smyth: Grasp the Nettle, to coincide with and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, the decisive step in the political emancipation of women in the UK getting the vote.

The concert will be staged Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. at Stapleford Granary. Tickets are £15 for general admission and £8 for those under 16.

About Ethel Smyth

Dame Ethel Smyth, a friend and frequent correspondent of Virginia Woolf and a political activist and composer, was imprisoned in Holloway Prison with Sylvia Pankhurst. As a composer, she wrote the anthem for the suffrage movement “The March of the Women” as well as six operas and many chamber, orchestral, and vocal works.  As an author she published ten books.

In 1902 Ethel Smyth was the first female composer to have an opera performed at Covent Garden and, in 1903, she was the first female composer to have an opera performed at The Metropolitan Opera House in New York. The next opera by a female composer to be performed at Covent Garden was in 2012 and at The Met in 2016.

About the concert

Grasp The Nettle weaves her music, songs and greatest opera, “The Wreckers,” with her battle for an equal voice.It is Illuminated with anecdotes from her confidants, her letters and her own writing “…which is peculiarly beautiful and all of it rippling with life” (Maurice Baring).

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Leonard went over it, and says it’s a most delightful house and strongly advises you to take it . . . It has a charming garden, with a pond, and fruit trees, and vegetables, all now rather run wild, but you could make it lovely.

That was Virginia Woolf’s description of Charleston in a letter she wrote to her sister Vanessa Bell in 1916.

Vanessa took her sister’s advice. She arrived at Charleston in Firle, Sussex, via taxi in October of the same year. She would call it her home for the rest of her life.

She did not arrive alone, however. She was accompanied by her children, Julian and Quentin; fellow artist and sometimes lover Duncan Grant; his lover, David Garnett; a nurse; a maid; a cook; and a dog named Henry who would be memorialized forever on a wall in the home’s library.

Vanessa made the home her own until her death in 1961. During the years of the Great War, she lived there full time. Afterwards, she and her children, who now numbered three and included Angelica, her daughter with Duncan, born on Dec. 25 1918, moved back to London and used Charleston as a summer home.

The golden age of Charleston

During the interwar years, which Quentin Bell described as “the golden age of Charleston,” famous friends from the worlds of literature, art, and politics, visited the home on a regular basis. By the start of World War II, Charleston became the family’s full-time home and a wartime refuge once again.

After the death of Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell in 1964 and Duncan in 1978, Angelica Garnett, lived at Charleston alone until 1980, when the Charleston Trust was formed. It is this entity that set about restoring the house to its current state, circa 1950s, with all of the furnishings and personal items left behind by its occupants preserved intact.

Literature Cambridge road trip to Charleston

We visited Charleston, known as Bloomsbury in the country, as the first charming stop on our coach trip, once our Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens ended last month.

Exterior door to Vanessa and Duncan’s studio at Charleston

We toured the home, with every surface painted and decorated by Vanessa and Duncan — from doors to woodwork to furniture to bathtubs. There was so much to see that it was impossible to take in every detail, even though it was my second trip.

Here’s what we saw as we soaked up the Post-Impressionist beauty and palpable energy of this unique home:

  • Clive’s ground floor study, with its fireplace designed by Roger Fry and its fireplace surround and window embrasure decorated by Vanessa
  • The dining room, with its black walls stenciled in grey and yellow by Duncan and Quentin and its large round wooden table decorated by Vanessa.
  • The second floor bedrooms of Duncan, Clive, and Maynard Keynes, where he wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace 
  • Vanessa’s first floor bedroom with its en suite bath that scandalized the residents of Firle and its French doors that open to the lavish garden
  • The library, with its book-lined walls and Duncan’s painting of dog Henry below the north wall
  • The green bathroom, with its bathtub decorated with a 1969 painting of a nude by Richard Shone
  • The artists’ studio, constructed by Vanessa and Duncan in 1925, where they worked together until World War II, when Vanessa had her own studio built at the top of the house.

Tour Charleston in words and photos

Photographs are not permitted inside the home, as some of the artwork displayed is owned by private individuals.

But I recommend the book Charleston: A Bloomsbury House and Garden if you want to read more about the home and view its gorgeous, colorful, and individualized rooms. You can also take a room by room photo tour of the home on the Charleston website.

As a result of the ban on interior photos, I had to limit my photography to the outdoor spaces. But the home is famous for its beautiful garden, so scroll down for a pictorial walking tour.

Then take a look at the Blogging Woolf post about our Literature Cambridge trip to Monk’s House that same day, where photos were permitted inside and out.

The pond at Charleston lies beyond the lawn that fronts the house. In 1917, it was larger and deeper and was the home of carp and eels. Quentin Bell’s sculpture of a levitating woman is installed on the far shore.

Charleston as seen from the farm track to the home. The gravel, the lawn, bushes, and the facade of the house are the same as in the time of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

The close-boarded wooden gate to Charleston, with a square pillar topped by one of two urns cast by Quentin Bell in 1952. They sit on either side of the gate.

Entry to the walled garden at Charleston

Toadstool sculpture within the gate of the walled garden

Tile plaque mounted inside the flint and brick wall noting garden restoration details

Small pond lined with ceramic tiles, originally decorated by Vanessa about 1930 but replaced with copies by Quentin.

Hollyhocks frame a cast of a Giovanni da Bologna sculpture of a modest lady in the Charleston garden. She stands in a corner beneath an apple tree.

The flint and brick garden wall with a row of casts of antique heads, many of which have been replaced over the years.

This window at Charleston frames a pot of red geraniums.

A view of Charleston from in front of the pond

Cressida Bell items for sale in the Charleston gift shop

Fabrics for sale at the Charleston gift shop, with designs by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant

 

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A Literary Tube map of London by In the Book replaces Tube stations with famous novels based on the area in which they were set. The site asks, “How many have you read?” and includes Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

Close-up of the Westminster Tube station near the home where Mrs. Dalloway prepares for her party.

The map was designed to act as a definitive virtual book tour of London for both locals and tourists, according to developers. They “believe literature has the wonderful ability to color a certain area like nothing else!”

Here’s what In the Book has to say about their latest creation:

The literary Tube map shows upper-class housewife Clarissa Dalloway preparing for her party near Westminster station, as well as Sherlock Holmes about to embark on another mystery near Baker Street. We can also see Roald Dahl’s famous tale The BFG two stops away from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, two timeless children’s classics that are situated on the central line.

Developers say they “found it fascinating how certain genres and authors were married with certain parts of the map: Dickens’ London dominates the Central Line, while gothic Victorian works Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray can all be found haunting the Piccadilly Line. Zadie Smith’s works were located on the northwest Jubilee Line while Martin Amis’ novels were more prominent around West London.”

In The Book is a personalized book company based in Hertfordshire.

Literary Tube Map

Tube Map Central

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Fall Events

What: Study Day on Reading The Waves
When: Saturday 21 September 2019
Where: Stapleford Granary
Cost: £90/£80 students and Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain members.

What: Ellie Mitchell, Talk on Reading Ritual in The Waves
When: Tuesday 15 October 2019
Where: Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge
Cost: Free talks for Town and Gown

What: All-day reading of The Waves
When: Sun. 27 October 2019
Where: Cambridge
Cost: Free but places are limited. Email info@literaturecambridge.co.uk if you would like to attend.

Summer 2020 Courses

Virginia Woolf’s Women, 19-24 July 2020. An intensive week of lectures, seminars, tutorials, walks, talks, and visits to places of interest in Cambridge.

Reading the 1920s, 26-31 July 2020. An intensive study week on literature from the decade following the First World War. Authors include T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Lawrence, Woolf, Radclyffe Hall, Helen Zenna Smith, Edmund Blunden.

Discount for early bookings. Members of the VWSGB can book at the student rate, subject to availability.

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Once our Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens was over, it was time for a pilgrimage. So on a bright and sunny July Saturday, we climbed aboard our coach and headed to Monk’s House from Cambridge.

Our driver dropped us off in Rodmell after our three-hour trip and we literally headed down The Street. After a brief walk, we arrived at the front gate of the country home that Virginia and Leonard occupied, beginning in 1919.

It was magical. Walking through the gate and down the path, I felt as though I was on hallowed ground, following in the footsteps the Woolfs had made.

We ate lunch in the garden, watched a dramatic reading of a scene from Between the Acts, with Virginia’s Writing Lodge as a backdrop, toured the ground floor of the home fitted out with the Woolfs’ belongings, and wandered through the garden filled with colorful and profuse blooms.

Follow along as I share some photos from our day.

Front gate of Monk’s House

The path behind the Monk’s House gate

As the Monk’s House guidebook states, “Books dominated the house.” And books are the first thing you see as you enter through the low back doorway. They line the stairs to the second floor.

Off to the left is the original Monk’s House sitting room, furnished with pieces ranging from the 17th to the 20th centuries. The still life design on the fire screen is by Duncan Grant, with the needlework by his mother, Ethel Bartle Grant. The upholstered armchair to its right was Virginia’s favorite, featuring a print by Vanessa Bell.

Another view of the original Monk’s House sitting room, which was created when the Woolfs knocked down a partition wall in 1926. It combined areas for reading, writing, and eating. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant painted the dining table — with its geometric design of criss-cross strokes — and four chairs in the early 1930s.

The square coffee table in the center of the room is topped with tiles by Duncan Grant. They depict Venus at her toilet.

A table and six painted chairs with needlework panels designed by Vanessa Bell dominate the dining room. The needlework panels depict bowls of flowers against a window. Grant’s mother completed the embroidery.

The Monk’s House dining room fireplace

The oil portrait of Virginia Woolf painted by Vanessa Bell in 1912. It hangs on a wall between the stairway and the dining room at Monk’s House.

The doorway, framed with roses, that leads from the garden to Virginia Woolf’s bedroom at Monk’s House

Virginia Woolf’s bedroom was part of an extension to Monk’s House built in 1929. It truly was a room of her own as one had to enter it from the garden, as in the photo above.

The fireplace in Virginia Woolf’s ground floor bedroom is decorated with tiles that were a gift from Vanessa Bell. They depict a ship with a lighthouse in the distance.

Virginia Woolf’s Writing Lodge, built in 1934 and and extended in the 1950s by Leonard for his companion Trekkie Parsons. The new space is now used as an exhibition room.

This table sits inside the Writing Lodge covered with her tortoiseshell glasses, folders with handwritten labels that she used for her manuscripts, pen and ink, newspapers, and wads of rumpled paper.

Just one view of the extensive Monk’s House garden, lovingly tended by Leonard, with the central part consisting of a series of small spaces enclosed by plants and joined by a network of narrow paths.

The Millstone Terrace, whose name comes from the millstones the Woolfs found in the garden.

The Fish Pond, one of three ponds Leonard installed, this one on a narrow strip of south-facing garden enclosed on three sides by flint walls.

The lawn at Monk’s House where the Woolfs played bowls and visitors today continue the tradition.

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