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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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King’s College, Cambridge

It’s day two of the Literature Cambridge course Virginia Woolf’s Gardens, and we spent two hours touring the gardens of King’s College, Cambridge. Then came the best part of all. We saw the window of a room that was the setting for a scene in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

Not a room of her own

That important part of our tour came at the end, as we got a look at the second floor window of the room overlooking the college green where, our guide told us, Woolf wrote the first chapter of A Room of One’s Own (1929). Later, Trudi Tate, director of Literature Cambridge, corrected that statement. Instead, she told us, the room was the setting for the well-appointed lunch Woolf describes in the first chapter of Room.

The room, of course, was not her own, but was the quarters of Dadie Rylands. Women were not admitted to King’s until 1972, so they obtained their degrees at the University of Cambridge’s two women’s colleges, Newnham, founded in 1869, and Girton, founded in 1871.

We were not able to visit the actual room that helped inspire Woolf, as it is now the accounting office for the college. Ironically, it was off limits to Woolf pilgrims, we who revere her feminist polemic about the ways the patriarchy limits women. I do admit that our group of more than two dozen would have crowded such small quarters.

Bloomsbury paintings in the hundreds

However, after viewing the Provost’s Garden, we were taken inside the nearby Provost’s Lodge. There, we were shown two first-floor rooms hung with original paintings by Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, and Dora Carrington.

I took plenty of photos of the paintings we saw, but publication of them — even on the internet — is not permitted without permission, and we did not want to trouble our gracious guide to obtain that.

As it turns out, hundreds of paintings by Grant and Bell are hung around the college, many of them donated by Maynard Keynes. A catalogue of the Bloomsbury art is in the works, but it will be several years before it is ready. We were told that it may be available in digital format.

Corrected and updated: 17 July 2019

Virginia Woolf wrote the first chapter of “A Room of One’s Own” in Dadie Rylands’ room at King’s College, Cambridge, which was behind the second floor window shown here.

This was part of the view Woolf would have seen from Dadie Rylands’ room at King’s College, Cambridge, where she wrote the first chapter of “A Room of One’s Own.” As our guide told us, the buildings, the lawn, and the gardens have changed little since Woolf’s day.

Woolf mentions undergraduates punting on the river in “A Room of One’s Own.” They, and tourists, still do that today on the River Cam located just beyond the lawn pictured above.

In the Provost’s Garden at King’s College, Cambridge, a private place we viewed on our tour.

A flower bed in the Provost’s Garden, with a pot of colorful sweet peas growing up a trellis.

Giant magnolias from the U.S. frame a doorway in the Provost’s Garden.

Sun-kissed floral closeup in the Provost’s Garden.

The Wine Room in the Provost’s Lodge is filled with paintings by members of the Bloomsbury Group. It is often used now as a seminar room. The 23 students in our group snapped lots of photos of the art.

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In 2017, Ane Thon Knutsen combined her love of Virginia Woolf and her love of typesetting with her project A Printing Press of One’s Own. The two came together in her hand-set volume by the same name, which she debuted at the 27th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf at the University of Reading that June.

Now she’s at it again, this time with a massive installation titled “The Mark on the Wall,” which runs Jan. 22 – Jan. 27 at Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo.

The free exhibition is a part of Artistic Research Week 2019.

Ane’s project

In this practice based PhD. Ane Thon Knutsen reflects on how the material process of typesetting colours the way one thinks about words and the physical materials of literature, from within the practice of typesetting itself.

The results of this research will be presented as a massive installation, an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s “The Mark on The Wall” (1917). “The Mark on the Wall” is the first story Woolf wrote whilst teaching her self to typeset. The prints will all appear in one installation, filling a huge room.

Knutsen’s adaptions of this short story represents a new way of reading Woolf as a typesetting author. Knutsen reflects on and lives out how thoughts materialize in the world, in a pendular process between the mind and the body. In this installation Knutsen is translating the story from the pages of the book to a room of one´s own.

Knutsen will also be showing previous adaptions of “The Mark on The Wall” simultaneously at Oslo National Academy of The Arts.

See a time-lapse video of the printing process

As Ane says, “This (time-lapse video) documents every minute of the three months it took me to reprint and translate “The Mark on the Wall” to 1828 A3 posters, setting it word by word with moveable type. The whole short story can be read on the door in the centre during two hours and 18 minutes.”

About Ane

Ane Thon Knutsen (b.1984) is a designer & artist living and working in Oslo, Norway. She specialized in letterpress printing and her artistic practice can be placed in-between graphic design, conceptual letterpress printing and performative presentations.

Ane is currently a PhD- candidate in Graphic Design at Oslo National Academy of The Arts. In the project A Printing Press of One´s Own, she is researching Virginia Woolf’s practice as a self taught typesetter and publisher through experimental graphic interpretations of the short story “The Mark on the Wall” (1917).

“The Mark on the Wall” installation in photos

Below are photos of her work on the exhibit that Ane shared with Blogging Woolf.

“900 massive meters of prints are up!” is the comment Ane included with this photo on her Facebook page on Jan. 18.

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I’d heard the rumor — that a Virginia Woolf “collage” could be spotted in the ladies room of London’s Tavistock Hotel. But I did not expect what I actually found.

Tavistock Hotel in Bloomsbury, London

I went in search of the hotel’s unusual homage to Woolf after the 28th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf in June at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England.

The clerk at the Tavistock’s front desk directed me to the lobby level ladies room, where I expected to see a lone framed Woolf collage on the wall near the door or the sinks.

Loo decor

I found something entirely different. The wall behind each toilet in each ladies room stall was decorated with a long framed graphic featuring Woolf and her works. Each was cut to feature a different element of her work.

Luckily, the ladies room was unoccupied when I entered, so I was able to take a photograph of each stall. However, some of my photos are a bit tipsy, due to the fact that I had to prop each stall door open with my foot while hurriedly snapping individual pictures.

I made sure to include the commode and toilet tissue roll in the photo when I could manage it, as evidence that this Woolf sighting actually took place in a loo. 

 

The hotel’s Woolf & Whistle serves light meals and beverages.

Traditional afternoon tea is also offered at the Tavistock Hotel’s Woolf & Whistle.

 

About the Tavistock

Blue plaque honoring Virginia and Leonard Woolf installed to the left of the front entrance of the Tavistock Hotel.

The hotel is famous because it is built on the site of Virginia and Leonard’s flat at 52 Tavistock Square, in which they lived from 1924-1939.

A blue plaque commemorating that fact was unveiled on the exterior of the building in April.

 

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Virginia and Vita. Virginia and Leonard. Vanessa and Roger. Vanessa and Duncan. All four of those Bloomsbury couples are included in the exhibit “Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde” at The Barbican Art Gallery in London through Jan. 27, 2019.

According to promoters:

Modern Couples explores creative relationships, across painting, literature, sculpture, photography and design. Meet the artist couples that forged new ways of making art and of living and loving, from Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera, Emilie Flöge & Gustav Klimt to Virginia Woolf & Vita Sackville-West.

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Art inspired by Virginia Woolf always inspires me. And that was the case at the 28th Annual  International Conference on Virginia Woolf last June at Woolf College at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England.

Luz Novillo-Corvalán

Woolfian Artists

Luz Novillo-Corvalán from Argentina’s University of Cordoba was one of three artists on the “Woolfian Artists” panel the first morning of the conference.

The others were Ane Thon Knutsen with “Reading Woolf from the Type Case Perspective: Finding Artistic Freedom Through ‘The Mark on the Wall'” and Adriane Little with “Virginia Woolf Was Here” in which she combined Woolf’s words with water from Woolf sites.

Portraits and more

Luz’s presentation, “Portraits of Radical Women: From Anais Nin to Virginia Woolf,” featured her lovely portraits of those artists and others, embroidered in one continuous chain stitch on paper.  The Woolf portrait is pictured below, along with other pieces Luz displayed — and sold — at the conference.

Luz Novillo-Corvalán’s embroidered portrait of Virginia Woolf

“Why should men drink wine and women water,” asks Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own, and Luz Novillo-Corvalán adds a new twist to the question by embroidering it on a handkerchief.

Displayed at the conference: paper art with a Woolf theme featuring The Waves, Orlando and Monk’s House from Luz Novillo-Corvalán.

Luz Novillo-Corvalán’s artistic interpretation of The Waves

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Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own has inspired a two-story bronze sculpture, “Beyond Thinking,” which apparently has a double meaning and is prompting discussion on social media and beyond.

It will be unveiled at Newnham College, Cambridge, on the 70th anniversary of the first degree ceremony for its female graduates, held in 1948.

Positioned at the entrance to the College’s new Dorothy Garrod building, named after the pioneering archeologist, the sculpture is the first thing that students and visitors will see.

Artist Cathy de Monchaux commissioned artwork inspired by Virgina Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s own’ at Newnham College, Cambridge photographed by Alun Callender.

Former Turner Prize nominee Cathy de Monchaux, who is known for using vulvas in her work, created the piece, which stands out in relief from a wall and repeats an intricate motif. It is one that — depending upon the viewer — can be seen as a vulva or an open book.

While The Guardian reported that the sculpture depicts the female vulva, the college says it depicts a tower of books.

Two views

The sculpture is “standing out in relief from a wall . . . [and] repeats an intricate genital motif which can also be seen as an open book, the pages lined with the branches of a tree of knowledge,” writes The Guardian.

The sculpture “shows a vertical column of open books set into the fabric of the building. Instead of words, a vine-like structure is embedded in the pages. The spine of each open book holds a female figure gazing out at the world,” says the college news release.

Take the poll

You can decide for yourself by viewing additional photos and taking the online poll available on this CambridgshireLive post.

A Room of One’s Own (1929) was based on a talk Woolf gave to the female students of Newnham and Girton Colleges, Cambridge, in 1928.

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