A portrait of Virginia Woolf by Vanessa Bell
Image via here
The National Portrait Gallery in London is one of my favorite places to visit. It contains portraits of some of the most well-known British figures from the past and present. It is a visual feast for the Anglophile. Everywhere you look are the faces of people you have read about. History comes to life. There are portraits from the Tudor times to the present day. And many of my favorite writers are there. The painting of the Bronte sisters by their brother Branwell, creased in the middle after years of being folded up and sitting atop a cupboard at Haworth House in Yorkshire, is one I always visit. I also always check out the Gallery's great collection of Bloomsbury portraits. There is a fabulous painting of Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant and one of E.M. Forster by Carrington that I just love.
Today is the opening of a very special exhibition devoted entirely to Virginia Woolf: "Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision." The first exhibition of her in portraits, it is curated by the Bloomsbury Group biographer Frances Spaulding and features more than 100 items, including personal items such as family photographs, letters and diaries, as well as paintings and sculptures of her by the Bloomsbury artists. There are also works by Picasso and Man Ray, as well as first editions from the Hogarth Press. The exhibition is a visual biography of Woolf's entire life, from her birth in 1882 to her suicide in 1941. The goal is to shed light on her personal and public life and help people know her better.
When I found out about this exhibition, you may have heard me shouting for joy because I will be in London just in time to see it. Virginia Woolf is one of my favorite writers and I have been reading her, as well as collecting books on her and the Bloomsbury Group for many years. I have a postcard of her from the National Portrait Gallery that sits on my desk.
After doing a little research, I have learned a few things about the show. The three most poignant items in the exhibition are the two farewell letters Virginia wrote to her sister Vanessa and her husband Leonard before committing suicide, and her walking stick she left on the bank of the River Ouse, near Monk's House, before drowning herself. These items have never been on display before. I have the chills just thinking about seeing these.
Last October when I was in London I took a day trip to Monk's House, the country home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf. It is an unpretentious house with many of the rooms painted Virginia's favorite shade of green and it feels as if she and Leonard have just stepped out for a walk. The beauty and serenity of the garden and Virginia's sunny book-filled bedroom reminded me of the bliss I knew she had found there. It was her sanctuary. The house and garden practically sang out with the conversations and creative work that occurred there during those years. It is hard to believe that this is where she ended her life at age 59.
It sounds as if the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery will give us the full spectrum of Virginia Woolf's life. Just like one of her novels, it promises to evoke all aspects of a life: the ups and downs, the pains and joys, the struggles and triumphs. Can't wait to see this.
My study and Virginia
If you live in England or are planning to visit soon, I would love to know if you are going to see this exhibition.
Are you a fan of Virginia Woolf?