Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision at National Portrait Gallery London

Virginia Stephen by George Charles Beresford, 1902.
This image can be seen at Virginia Woolf:
Art, Life and Vision
at the National Portrait Gallery, London
Today I was lucky enough to attend a preview a new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London exploring the life and achievements of Virginia Woolf, one of the most important English writers of the twentieth century and the author of Mrs Dalloway, Room of One's Own, To The Lighthouse and The Waves. She also pioneered the stream of consciousness style of writing. A style equalled loved and loathed by creative writing students.

The exhibition is curated by biographer Frances Spalding who wanted to create an exhibition that caters for people who first come in to contact with Virginia Woolf by seeing pictures of her in the media or in the Internet as well as for fans of Woolf's books. The exhibition spans all of Woolf's life, starting with Woolf's early life with holiday pictures from Cornwall, where they would go for several months at a time and would take up a a whole train carriage with their trunks, as well as exploring her political interests especially with feminism and the Spanish Civil War and her literary interests with publishing and the set up of Hogarth Press, a publishing printing company with her husband, Leonard Woolf.

Woolf's diaries stretch over six volumes.
Some of the highlights include first editions of Virginia Woolf's novels and non fiction, extracts from her diaries. One of the extracts recalls how Woolf went back to her house in Tavistock Square, London to find it had been bombed and how she sets about climbing through the rubble to find her diaries.

There are portraits of Woolf by her contemporaries, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry as well as photographs by Beresford, Man Ray, Beck and MrGregor who photographed her for Vogue magazine. There are also portraits of those who were close to her during her life including Vita Sackville West and her husband, Leonard Woolf and members from their 'Bloomsbury Group.' The introduction of post-impressionism influenced Woolf's writing by looking at the textures and breaking the accepted conventions of the writing establishment.
'The Black Book'

As well having rare items from Hogarth press (including Virginia Woolf's novels and T.S Eliot's poems and Paris by Hope Mirrlees), there is also a book called the 'Black Book.' This was a list compiled by Hitler's Head of Counter-Espionage. Both Virginia and Leonard were listed along with other eminent public figures who would be arrested if the German army invaded Britain.
These are the last letters Woolf wrote before her death

The exhibition includes Woolf's walking stick, found by her husband by the river when she died. This is the first time this has been on public view in the UK. The exhibition also includes Woolf's last two letters before she committed suicide. These are normally held in the British Library's Manuscript Collection and this rare display of them in public is a must for any Woolf fans and fans of British literature.

This exhibition is an insightful and interesting look into Virginia Woolf's life - the portraits are fantastic as well as the diary extracts.

Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision runs from 10th July 2014 until 26th October 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

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