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Posts Tagged ‘Vanessa Bell’

The new major summer exhibition at the Bath & North East Somerset Council-run Bloomsbury Rooms: Modernism, Subculture, DomesticityVictoria Art Gallery will recreate some of the famous Bloomsbury Group’s interior designs. The exhibition, A Room…

Source: ‘Designs’ on the Bloomsbury Group

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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.

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Nina Hamnett and Winifred Gill wearing Omega designs photographed in The Illustrated London Herald 24 October 1915. Copyright British Library.

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.

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Virginia Woolf wearing her mother’s dress photographed for British Vogue. Copyright British Vogue.

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.

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Burberry AW14/15 ready to wear. Copyright British Vogue

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.

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Tim Walker’s Rebel Riders December 2015. Copyright Italian Vogue.

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.

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Looks from See by Chloe’s AW16/17 campaign. Copyright Vogue.

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.

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The two new interns at Charleston continue to unearth work by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant as part of the Angelica Garnett Gift. They are photographing, cataloguing and publishing Grant and Bell’s works for viewing online.

Here’s the interns’ most recent post about two sketchbooks by Duncan Grant dated circa 1919 and 1923.

The Charleston Attic

Last week was #MuseumWeek 2016, and to celebrate, The Charleston Attic will once again be joining institutions all over the world by writing a blog post reflecting one of the themes trending on Twitter.

Thursday’s theme of cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, shows the scope for discovery within the several thousand works on paper and canvas that make up the Angelica Garnett Gift.

Last week also marked our independence as the new Attic Interns as we continue with the task in hand: to photograph, catalogue and publish Grant and Bell’s works so that they may be viewed online. There is much excitement to be had in unearthing new items in the collection, and it seems like the perfect opportunity, in celebration of Charleston’s cultural heritage through the Gift, to talk about this week’s findings in relation to the theme.

We have been looking closely at two sketchbooks by…

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The summer season will kick off at Charleston, the Sussex retreat of the Bloomsbury Group, with free lectures by Charleston interns, beginning March 24 at 2 p.m.

Charleston Farmhouse

Charleston

The house will also be open via guided tours, which you can book here.

The lectures, which will take place in the historic barns, include:

  1. Vanessa Bell’s Faceless Portraits and The Angelica Garnett Gift by Rebecca Birrell
  2. Dressing Modern Identity: Victorian style re-imagined in The Angelica Garnett Gift  by Zoe Wolstenholme

You can also book a place on the Spotlight lectures.

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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 Charleston AtticCollection 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:

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bathing-sceneNews and analysis of a recently discovered Vanessa Bell nude. Read more at this post, “Vanessa Bell’s Bathers, on The Charleston Attic blog.

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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.

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