A major exhibition exploring the life and achievements of Virginia Woolf opens at the National Portrait Gallery tomorrow, 10 July 2014. Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision, which is on display until 26 October, will feature painted portraits, photographs, drawings and rare archival material.
The exhibition looks at Woolf as a novelist, intellectual, campaigner and public figure. It focuses on her early life, literary interests, her fascination with London, awareness of modernity, and her developing feminist and political views. This is illustrated by an array of archival material, including letters to and from her friends and acquaintances, extracts from her personal diaries, and original books that were first printed through the Hogarth Press.
Highlights of the exhibition include portraits of Woolf by her Bloomsbury Group contemporaries, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry, as well as a collection of photographs by Beresford, Man Ray, and Beck and McGregor who photographed Woolf for Vogue. The exhibition also features portraits of those she was closest to, including a selection of intimate images recording her time spent with friends, family and literary peers.
Woolf’s father, Leslie Stephen, was a renowned author, literary critic and a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery, although he was principally remembered as the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography. Woolf was home-educated in Kensington by her parents, in an intellectual household that was well-connected to Victorian literary society.
Despite her Victorian upbringing, Woolf was determined to establish new forms of creative writing and criticism. In 1905, Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell began to host weekly gatherings held at 46 Gordon Square, which led to the development of the Bloomsbury group of writers, artists and intellectuals, of which the sisters were central figures. The group included notable names such as John Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry and Lytton Strachey. In 1912, Woolf married Leonard Woolf and together founded publishing company the Hogarth Press in 1917.
In 1910 and 1912 Roger Fry brought French Post-impressionism to London and introduced England to modern art. From then on Woolf’s development as a modernist writer was to an extent influenced by her thinking about painting. In her novels, she demolished accepted conventions and transformed ideas about structure, plot and characterisation. Woolf pioneered the ‘stream of consciousness’ style of writing. To this day, Woolf’s work continues to inspire contemporary authors and has been adapted for both screen and stage. A ballet inspired by Woolf will be the centrepiece of the Royal Ballet’s next season, which will be based both on her life and the novels Orlando, The Waves and Mrs Dalloway. Choreography is by Wayne McGregor and will open in summer 2015.
The exhibition also considers Woolf’s political awareness, which was particularly prominent during the Spanish Civil War when she supported fundraising events for those affected by the Spanish Civil War. The exhibition includes one of Picasso’s Weeping Woman drawings which he created specifically for a fundraising event at the Royal Albert Hall, at which Virginia and Leonard Woolf sat on the platform.
Woolf suffered from bouts of mental illness and in 1941 she committed suicide. The letter that she wrote to Vanessa Bell, shortly before she died, is held in the British Library’s Manuscript Collection and is on rare public display as part of the exhibition.
The NPG’s Director, Sandy Nairne, said:
Virginia Woolf was one of Britain’s most important writers and thinkers, who played a pivotal role at the heart of modernism in the early twentieth century. I am delighted that the National Portrait Gallery is staging a major exhibition dedicated to the life, work and imagery of such a significant figure in British history.
The exhibition is complemented by a revealing, highly illustrated biography of Virginia Woolf by leading authority on the Bloomsbury Group, Frances Spalding. It includes over 100 works from public and private collections, documentary photographs and extracts from Woolf’s writings. It is available to purchase from the National Portrait Gallery bookshop and online.
VIRGINIA WOOLF: ART, LIFE AND VISION
The exhibition runs from 10 July until 26 October 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery, London
Adult £7 (with Gift Aid)
Seniors £6.50/Concessions £6
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.