Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision

Planning ahead; my next journey abroad will go to London in July. Anyone else looking forward to this:

News Release: National Portrait Gallery announces first exhibition exploring the life of Virginia Woolf through portraits

  • First exhibition to explore the life and achievements of Virginia Woolf through portraiture
  • Over 100 works to be displayed including paintings, photographs and rare archival material
  • Portraits of Woolf by Bloomsbury group figures Roger Fry, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell

For a literary scholar turned art-critic, this sounds like a perfect gift. Prepering for my part of the job, writing a review, I will definitely go back to Woolf, but also have a look at Hermione Lee marvelous biography: Virginia Woolf (1996)

Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision will be on display from 10 July until 26 October.

Bloomsbury Pictures

I am, as some of you know, teaching art history & theory, but I have never focused on British art, and never really considered Virginia Woolf’s relation to her contemporary visual artists. But now its time  -

Duncan Grant: Study for Composition (Self-Portrait in a Turban), 1910

I received two books in my mailbox today:

Bloomsbury Portraits By Richard Shone & The Art of Bloomsbury:
Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant By Richard Shone
With essays by James Beechey and Richard Morphet

Bloomsbury Portraits, originally published in 1976, was the first book to look at the contribution of the painters of the group, Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) and Duncan Grant (1885-1978), not only within the context of Bloomsbury but also from the wider perspective of modern British art.

The Art of Bloomsbury:
Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant is a catalogue, published to accompany a major international exhibition of the Bloomsbury painters originating at the Tate Gallery in London (1999).

Duncan Grant: Self-Portrait, 1910

I have just started flickering through the books, they are both filled with pictures. To give an idea of what I’m looking at I have posted two self-portraits by Duncan Grant. Look at the intensity in his eyes.

Oh, I already know I will spend hours with these books …

Garden Path in Spring

Duncan Grant: Garden Path in Spring (1944)

Duncan Grant was a central figure in the circle of artist and writers known as The Bloomsbury Group, which included Grant’s cousin Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry, Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s sister the painter Vanessa Bell and Vanessa’s husband the critic Clive Bell.

Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell were closely associated in their professional and personal lives for more than fifty years.

The garden depicted above was part of the estate at Charleston, a remote farmhouse at the foot of Firle Beacon in Sussex where Grant lived and worked with Vanessa Bell from 1916 until his death. Under previous owners the garden had been used for growing fruit and vegetables; under the direction of Grant and Bell, it was transformed into the very archetype of a delightfully disordered English cottage garden.

Jacky Klein writes:

Certainly the wider world is not alluded to in Garden Path in Spring, where the intimacy of the domestic garden setting is intensified by the crowded composition. Blocking out the views beyond and even the sky above, the voluminous trees and plants fill the entire canvas, while blossoming branches sweep inwards to form a protective shade. The extent to which Grant’s vision in the early 1940s was of an inward-looking, enclosed world is most apparent when the Charleston paintings are compared with his earlier, European, landscapes.

As a retreat from war the garden at Charleston was an anomaly. Under the government’s ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign between 1939 and 1945, six and a half million acres of countryside had been ploughed up and transformed into productive, utilitarian allotments. Haphazard and superfluous, Grant’s flower garden was a rare luxury, and in some senses a rejection of the nationalistic language of wartime self-sufficiency, in line with his earlier pacifist response to the First World War. The detached, carefree and luxurious world of Charleston, enjoyed by its inhabitants and visitors, was to appear increasingly out of tune with modern British life, and in the post-war era of austerity and rationing Grant suffered a decline in his reputation.

Duncan Grant’s bedroom at Charleston, with an east view over the pond.