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London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery will present the first major monographic exhibition of work by Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), Feb. 8 – June 4, 2017.

NPG 5933. Virginia Woolf (née Stephen) by Vanessa Bell (née Stephen), 1912. Oil on board, 15 3⁄4 x 13 3⁄8 inches (400 x 340 mm). National Portrait Gallery, London

NPG 5933. Virginia Woolf (née Stephen) by Vanessa Bell (née Stephen), 1912. Oil on board, 15 3⁄4 x 13 3⁄8 inches (400 x 340 mm). National Portrait Gallery, London

Widely acclaimed as a central figure of the Bloomsbury Group, Bell also stands on her own as a pivotal player in 20th century British art, inventing a new language of visual expression according to the gallery’s media release.

Arranged thematically, the exhibition will reveal Bell’s pioneering work in the genres of portraiture, still life and landscape and will explore her fluid movement between the fine and applied arts. It will focus attention on her most distinctive period of experimentation in the 1910s.

Approximately 100 oil paintings as well as fabrics, works on paper, photographs and related archival material will deliver Bell in full force, boldly experimenting with abstraction, colour and form while developing her own distinctive way of seeing the world.

A class, Vanessa Bell: Portraiture, will also be held for ages 15-18 in conjunction with the exhibit. It is scheduled for Tuesdays, Feb. 28 through March 28.

A Virginia Woolf Word Portrait arrived this morning. Created by Akron artist John Sokol, an admirer of Woolf and her writing, the portrait is entirely made up of Woolf’s words from A Room of One’s Own. Across her forehead: “But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction”. And so she did. Best. Christmas. Present. Ever. 

Virginia Woolf’s diary entries from around Christmas bring into sharp relief the feelings that the festive season stirs. Her pieces are coloured by the unpredictable shifts of British winter weather, express the pull between social event and solitude, and are self-reflective in their review of the past.

The following entries span the twenty-year period from 1920-40 and express the layered and complex connotations that our annual traditions hold.

woolf-xmas

“A Virginia Woolf Christmas – Monks House Welcome Home” design by Amanda White

19 December 1920, Hogarth House

In 1920, Woolf’s entry anticipates her New Year’s return to Rodmell and the comfort and routine this will bring. She imagines the “soft, grey walk” she will take in the dappled cool winter light on the greyed heather and chalky mud of the Sussex Downs. Woolf weaves this expectation for the New Year with the immediacy of Christmas at the end of the entry where we join her in delighting in an early Christmas gift from Leonard:

So we reach the end of the year; which is for us cheerful, I think. For one thing we want to get to Rodmell; to see what has happened to the garden. I shall like a soft grey walk. Then the post. Then reading. Then sitting in the chimney corner […] (I use my new blotter, just given me by L., for the first time).

26 December 1929, Monks House

In 1929 Monks House delivers the atmospheric weather that Woolf had imagined at the beginning of the century. She writes, moreover, of its changeability and its effect on her – producing a “violent Christmas” which gives way to a “serene Boxing day”. Here we also see her desire for solitude in the face of incessant society and the hope that, for once, this will truly be possible:

And I am sitting in my new room, with curtains, fire, table; and two great views; sometimes sun over the brooks and storm over the church. A violent Christmas; a brilliant serene Boxing day. I find it almost incredibly soothing – a fortnight alone – almost impossible to let oneself have it. Relentlessly we have crushed visitors: we will be alone this once, we say; and really, it seems possible.

21 December 1933, 52 Tavistock Square

Christmas’s habit of repeating itself is hinted at in 1929 where the impossibility of retreat seems to be routine. In 1933, Woolf is particularly reflexive on the patterns of Christmas, calling the morning of preparing to go down to Rodmell a “relic”, seemingly aged and outdated:

This is the relic of a morning when I should tidy, pack, write letters and so on. We lunch at quarter to one, and then go, this yellow cold morning. No longer the great tradition that it used to be.

24 December 1940, Monks House

Woolf’s seasonal self-reflection is also present in our final entry from 1940, which begins by fantasising about living at Alciston Farm House but ends on a note of quiet contentment with home at Monks House:

“We lunched with Helen [Anrep at Alciston]; and again ‘I could have fancied living there’. An incredible loveliness. The downs breaking their wave, yet one pale quarry; and all the barns and stacks either a broken pink, or a verdurous green; and then the walk by the wall; and the church; deep hollows, where the past stands almost stagnant. And the little spire across the fields… L. is now cutting logs, and after my rush of love and envy for Alciston farm house, we concluded this [Monks House] is the perfect place.”

Woolf in her past and on her mind

Fire and Stone by Priscilla Long is an outstanding collection of personal essays encompassingfire-stone Priscilla’s life and family, her reflections on being an activist in Boston in the sixties, forays into science, literary influences, and more. Disclosure: In addition to being a remarkable writer, Priscilla is a good friend and my writing mentor.

I enjoyed reading in her essay “Throwing Stones” about how she “entered into the shadowy realm of American rebellion, into the sixties of pickets and protests and street marches and flag burnings … and danced all night and marched against the war and read Gramsci and Marx and Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf….”

But I was surprised when I found references to Mrs. Dalloway in two more essays in the same section: “The Musician” and “Dressing.” I knew Priscilla admired Woolf’s work, but I didn’t think she’d been a significant influence. So I asked her, “What’s with this?” She replied that she had written the essays at different times, had assembled the collection in a fitting order, but hadn’t realized there were Woolf references in three closely-sequenced essays.

When I delved into Woolf references in contemporary fiction* several years ago, I noted how they often were positioned to identify a time or a milieu in young women’s lives. They do that in Priscilla’s essays, but these aren’t fiction—Priscilla and her feminist cohort were reading A Room of One’s Own; young women were pondering the life and times of Clarissa Dalloway. I still find fictional references, and I read a number of personal essays every week. I frequently come across writers’ tributes to Woolf’s influence, or references to her novels or characters. Posters still hang in dorm rooms; Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are on many a beside table of many a woman, young and old, in fiction and in life.

*Editor’s Note: Alice Lowe’s monograph, Beyond the Icon: Virginia Woolf in Contemporary Fiction, is available from Cecil Woolf Publishers. You can also find more posts about Woolf in contemporary fiction.

 

Sussex Modernism exhibit coming up

Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion, a free major exhibition of Sussex Modernism at Two Charleston bookTemple Place in London will be held Jan. 28 – April 23, 2017.

Focus of the exhibit

The exhibit examines why radical artists and writers were drawn to the rolling hills, seaside resorts, and quaint villages of Sussex in the first half of the 20th century, according to organizers. It also explores how, in the communities they created, artistic innovation ran hand in-hand with political, sexual and domestic experimentation.

Artists included are Duncan Grant, Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Lee Miller and Roland Penrose.

Collaborating museums and galleries

The collaborative exhibition is the effort of nine museums and galleries from across Sussex. They include the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Charleston,  De La Warr Pavilion, Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft, Farley Farm House, Jerwood Gallery, Pallant House Gallery, Towner Art Gallery and West Dean.

Curated by Dr Hope Wolf, Lecturer in British Modernist Literature and co-Director of the Centre for Modernist Studies at the University of Sussex, the exhibition features more than 120 works from the county.

Sussex provided the inspiration but all these artists and writers were outsiders in their new surroundings. Never settling, some brought unconventional ideas, others found nightmares in the most picturesque of scenes, but ultimately they challenged the idea of Sussex as an idyllic escape. – Exhibit press release

If you haven’t joined the site Academia.edu, you may want to sign up. A number of papers on Virginia Virginia WoolfWoolf are uploaded there and can be downloaded free of charge. Some of them were shared at recent Woolf conferences. You can also search the site for additional Woolf resources.

Recently uploaded papers include:

Academia.edu is a platform for academics to share research papers.

I wish I’d remembered to post this information earlier, but there are still a few days remaining to visitHogarth Plaque the Virginia Woolf and the Hogarth Press exhibit in Richmond. Up since Oct. 29, the exhibit ends Dec. 10.

You’ll find it at the Riverside Gallery, Old Town Hall, Whittaker Avenue, Richmond, TW9 1TP.

Held in conjunction with the Richmond Literature Festival, the exhibit celebrates a century since Virginia and Leonard Woolf began publishing in Richmond under the auspices of their small publishing house started in 1917, the Hogarth Press.

The press gave Leonard and Virginia the opportunity to self-publish and provided an important opportunity for writers and artists to showcase their work uncensored and in small print runs.

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