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Not everyone can say they spent the 4th of July with Virginia Woolf. But Kathleen Donnelly and I can.

Three years ago, on July 4, 2017, Kathleen and I spent a day together in London. While there we visited a life-sized wax figure of Woolf on display in the foyer of the Virginia Woolf Building at 22 Kingsway at King’s College. It was installed Oct. 21, 2015, by artist Eleanor Crook.

Gaining entry

We were not able to walk right in, however, as entry to the building is secure. However, a kind security guard allowed us inside after noticing us standing out front with our noses pressed against the window. There, we were able to look around and take photos of the wax figure and the exhibit that surrounds it.

The location is significant, as Woolf was a student at the former King’s Ladies’ Department where she took classes in Greek, Latin, history and German between 1897 and 1902.

The Virginia Woolf display in the Virginia Woolf Building at King’s College, London, is straight up this set of stairs on the left.

The life-size wax figure of Virginia Woolf in a wardrobe of her own installed in the foyer of the Virginia Woolf Building at King’s College, London.

The Woolf figure holds a copy of “A Room of One’s Own” with a Vanessa Bell cover.

One panel in the Woolf display in the foyer of the Virginia Woolf Building at King’s College, London

A quote on a panel in the Woolf display in the foyer of the Virginia Woolf Building, King’s College, London

 

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One day walking round Tavistock Square I made up, as I sometimes make up my books, ‘To the Lighthouse’ – Virginia Woolf.

That quote is the inspiration for an illustrated pamphlet published last month and created by artist Louisa Amelia Albani. Titled A Moment in the Life of Virginia Woolf: A Lighthouse Shone in Tavistock Square, the booklet visually reimagines this ‘moment’ on a summer afternoon in London’s Tavistock Square in 1925.

To do so, it uses Woolf’s own words from her letters and diaries, along with excerpts from To the Lighthouse (1927).

I ordered a copy of Albani’s pamphlet last week. It hasn’t arrived from London yet, but I did get a thank you email for my order directly from Albani — an unexpected but lovely treat.

Art exhibit too

The artist also has an online art exhibition with the same title. The exhibit includes more than a dozen pieces based on Woolf. Many of them are already sold, so if you are interested in an original piece of art connected to Woolf, take a look now.

Below is a video of the project that the artist has posted on YouTube.

 

 

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Ane Thon Knutsen in her home printshop

Editor’s Note: Today marks the 79th anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s death, and as this post shows, she and her work continue to inspire artists and writers across the globe.

Virginia Woolf’s numerous experiences with illness led her to write the essay On Being Ill, published in 1930 by the Hogarth Press. Inspired by this work and the current coronavirus, Norwegian typesetter Ane Thon Knutsen, who has two projects focused on Woolf under her belt — A Printing Press of One’s Own and The Mark on the Wall — has now begun a third.

Woolf’s exploration of the consequences of illness

“Due to Covid-19 I have cast my eyes upon On Being Ill,” Knutsen explained. “This felt like something to get me through.

“The essay is about the consequence of illness; loneliness, isolation and vulnerability. But when we are forced to stop and slow down, we may notice the beauty in the small details of the world around us, and that our everyday, ordinary life is what we miss the most,” she said.

Working from home under quarantine in a printshop of her own

Ane Thon Knutsen’s letterpress

Knutsen, mother of a four-year-old, says her project allows her to combine motherhood with work under Norway’s self-imposed quarantine. The country made the move, which is in place at least until Easter, to stop the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

“I like being alone working, and I am blessed with a workshop at home. So I contemplated a Quarantine project that works with the circumstances,” she said.

Her project: using her printing press to print one sentence on one sheet of paper every day from On Being Ill “until we can go back to normal. I hope I will not make it through, as we’re counting about 140 sentences, and the paper is restricted to leftovers from my stock,” Knutsen explained.

Published on Instagram

Five days ago, she began posting a photo of each page on her Instagram account, @anethonknutsen. As of today, she is on sentence number six. The project, she says, “will present a very slow reading of the story.

“In the end (when that will be, who knows), I will make a box with all the sheets — like a calendar of sorts. Hopefully I will exhibit it as a wall piece in the future,” she said.

The project is set in 10-point Goudy Old Style. For the ink, Knutsen has “mixed a rich gray ink… inspired by the dust jacket by Vanessa Bell, and the colour of the lead type. It softens the appearance of the words on the page,” she explained on Instagram.

She hopes to print 20 copies, in a 208 mm x 135 mm format, the same as Woolf’s 1930 edition.

Sentence two from Virginia Woolf’s “On Being Ill”

Sentence one from Virginia Woolf’s “On Being Ill”

A tray filled with type set for Ane Thon Knutsen’s letterpress

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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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