‘As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world’ (Three Guineas – Virginia Woolf)
(favourite Woolf punk t-shirt, rocked with suffrage colours)
( ‘being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness’, To the Lighthouse, cover by Vanessa Bell)
Spent International Women’s Day with a good friend, at the fantastic retrospective of Vanessa Bell’s work, currently on at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. I went for the Woolf portraits, but found so much more to enjoy. It is an incredibly well-curated exhibition, and I had no idea just how good Bell actually was before I got there. Turns out she is very good. Her work has intimacy and life, and an endearingly robust and scruffy modernist aesthetic, what her sister Virginia Woolf described as ‘rough eloquence‘. It seems impossible that this is the first major solo show of Bell’s work in Britain. In co-curator, Sarah Milroy’s words it is – ‘one of the most astonishing and egregious examples of how the patriarchy functions within the discipline of art history.‘ And indeed the accompanying full-colour catalogue is the first to assemble all her work in one place. Not before time.
I was very taken with the last room of the exhibition with its ‘Women & Tents’ section (though maybe that was inevitable, given my fondness for spending time with our pet Hilleberg in the great outdoors!) this work came out of Bell’s time spent with a group of Neo-Pagans (a name coined by Woolf) swimming, hiking and living a generally more liberated life outdoors (though apparently Bell herself snuck off to a local farmhouse when she was with them for some creature comforts). In particular, she painted a gorgeous 4-panel Cubist screen, with several mysterious emerald women with insect-like faces, seated before a dove grey tent, a kind of chrysalis. It is a very lovely thing, and I definitely now have a case of partition envy.
Also in this room – who knew that George Lucas was a fan? That portrait of Princess Leia? Anyone? Perhaps it’s just me… There is also a rather fabulous portrait of the poet, adventurer and noted bohemian Iris Tree. In fact the whole exhibition is heaving with strong images of women, and I highly recommend it. Runs till 4 June.
(P.S. There’s also an accompanying exhibition of photographs by Patti Smith and Vanessa Bell, including a priceless snap of TS Eliot wearing an oil slicker, and up to his knees in a bush. Odd to see him out of the city.)
Queercore/punk (& awesome t-shirts): https://woolf.bandcamp.com/