The new major summer exhibition at the Bath & North East Somerset Council-run Victoria Art Gallery will recreate some of the famous Bloomsbury Group’s interior designs. The exhibition, A Room…
Archive for the ‘Vanessa Bell’ Category
Virginia Woolf wrote in her 1928 novel Orlando “clothes have more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us”. Her intimate circle of friends and members of the Bloomsbury group were part of the radical Modernist rethinking of dress at the Omega Workshops and Woolf herself wrote for British Vogue under Editor Dorothy Todd in the 1920s. Today the styles of Bloomsbury are inspiring more and more contemporary designers suggesting their aesthetic is as modern as it was 100 years ago.
In 1915 Woolf’s sister and co-founder of the Omega Workshops Vanessa Bell suggested that the Omega take up dress design using the fabrics they were already creating. Bell went on to design and wear many Omega dresses inspired by the new un-corseted “Directoire” style made popular by Parisian designer and marketing-extraordinaire Paul Poiret. Many of the garments were painted in bold colours in the Post-Impressionist style that had offended vast swathes of the British public at Roger Fry’s first Post-Impressionist art exhibition in 1910. The Omega artists took the style of these bold canvases and transferred it onto clothing, revealing a daring defiance in opposition to accepted ideas of “good taste”. Indeed, in Omega dress we glimpse attitudes that would define youth fashion in the second half of the twentieth century, dressing to express alternative aesthetic and ideological allegiance.
Virginia Woolf responded to these Omega styles, writing to Vanessa Bell:
“My god! What clothes you are responsible for! Karin’s clothes wrenched my eyes from the sockets – a skirt barred with reds and yellows of the violent kind, a pea-green blouse on top, with a gaudy handkerchief on her head, supposed to be the very boldest taste. I shall retire into dove colour and old lavender, with a lace collar and lawn wristlets”.
In this note to her sister, Woolf craves subtler shades for her own wardrobe. She was remembered for these neutral shades, for wearing “simple” or “martial-looking” clothes, but also in elegant stand out dresses and by Madge Garland, fashion editor of British Vogue, as a “beautiful and distinguished woman wearing what could only be described as … an upturned wastepaper basket on her head”. Her own relationship with clothing was complicated and her writing reveals a strong awareness of how clothes represent the self and hints at the perils of misrepresentation.
The many moods of Bloomsbury dress are increasingly being adopted by contemporary designers. Painterly Post-Impressionist styles, updated Victorian details, and slouchy yet elegant shapes capture the freedom of expression and reclamation of the past so typical of the works of the Bloomsbury group.
Burberry’s Bloomsbury Girls (AW14/15) modelled long floating hand-painted button-up dresses, patterned as if they had stepped out of the paintwork of an Omega interior. Tim Walker more recently used Charleston House in Sussex – home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant – as the dramatic backdrop for his editorial Rebel Riders for Italian Vogue (December 2015): Four models posed in front of Vanessa Bell’s iconic black painted wall in the library and waded through the depths of the pond that initially drew Bell’s affection for the house 100 years ago. See-by-Chloe’s upcoming AW16/17 collection is also inspired by the Bloomsbury aesthetic, layering floating skirts in chintz prints with long shirts and polo-neck sweaters. Here the subtler Victorian styles – the bow tied collars, lace up boots, and long frilled skirts – are coupled with thick knits and urban details.
The personal styles of many members of the Bloomsbury group were as radical as their works. They rejected expected conventions whether that was with word, image, or by wearing a painted hat or a “wastepaper basket” style on one’s head. Perhaps this reveals the root of their continued relevance, both of their intellectual and sartorial lives, today.
This post is inspired by my research paper Dressing Modern Identity that I wrote and delivered earlier this year as part of my curatorial traineeship at Charleston. Read the current interns’ research at thecharlestonattic.wordpress.com.
If you don’t already, follow The Charleston Attic blog, a record of the work of graduate student interns as they catalogue, research and interpret the Angelica Garnett Gift Collection from the home’s attic.
Charleston, home of twentieth century artists, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and their daughter Angelica Garnett, was the Sussex retreat of the Bloomsbury Group. The internships are funded by the Heritage Lottery.
Here are links to this month’s posts:
Lyric Charm and Quiet Wit – Duncan Grant’s Tangier landscapes
The Process of Abstraction – Vanessa Bell’s and Duncan Grant’s experiments in abstract art using “the tangible ephemera of everyday life.”
“New honours come upon him, like our strange garments” – Duncan Grant’s Modernist designs for Harley Granville-Barker’s production of Macbeth, planned for 1912.
— AbeBooks (@AbeBooks) August 19, 2013
Read more about this tile that Vanessa Bell gave her sister, Virginia Woolf, for Christmas in 1926,at Abe Books. It is priced at close to £100,000.
According to the campaign site,
Help Charleston continue to inspire future generations . . . Without your help, the walls will crack, the paint will peel and the surfaces will crumble. Donate now and get a great reward, including tote bags, silk scarves, framed fragments of Charleston’s wallpaper and the chance to see the completed restoration work at an exclusive unveiling event. Help restore Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s iconic painted surfaces for future generations to enjoy.
The fundraising goal is £25,000. As of today, it is 82 percent funded, with 176 funders, some of whom you will recognize.
You can join them to preserve this Bloomsbury treasure that Burberry credits that is as the inspiration behind its autumn/winter 2014 collection, the Bloomsbury Girls, and that is also the setting for much of the filming of this summer’s BBC Two show, “Life in Squares,” about the Bloomsbury Group.
Three songs from a new song cycle using Virginia Woolf’s letters to her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, are available online via SoundCloud.
Composed by Richard Barnard, they are titled ‘As A Writer‘, Nessa and Duncan, and A Dancing Light. They were recorded by Rhys Maslen at St Augustine’s Chapel, Bristol, and this part of the project was supported by Arts Council Wales.
Here are the descriptions of the songs, as copied from Barnard’s blog:
- ‘As A Writer’: Woolf frequently used Vanessa’s art as a metaphor for her own work. Here she describes the writing process as feeling beauty “which is almost entirely colour”, condensing ideas like pouring “a large jug of champagne over a hairpin”.
- ‘Nessa and Duncan’: A brilliantly teasing letter in which Woolf imagines a scene at Vanessa and Duncan Grant’s home as they discuss her recently published novel To The Lighthouse (clearly nervous of their judgement!)
- ‘A Dancing Light’: Part of a letter of 1937 written soon after the death of Vanessa’s son Julian in the Spanish Civil War.