A MAJOR exhibition featuring 80 female artists and inspired by the novelist Virginia Woolf has opened at a Chichester art gallery.
The touring exhibition seeks to show how her perspectives on feminism and creativity have remained relevant to a community of creative women across time.
The artists, from 1854 to the present day, include visual artists working in photography, painting, sculpture and film who have sought to record the vast scope of female experience and to shape alternative ways for women to be.
Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired By Her Writings acts as a lens through which ideas around landscape, domesticity and identity – recurring ideas in Virginia’s writing – have been dealt with across a century of art. The exhibition at the Pallant House Gallery is divided into four key themes.
Landscape And Place explores how landscape and nature have been used by artists including Laura Knight, Winifred Nicholson, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Maria Bartuszova, as metaphors for empowerment and for freedom from the ‘conventional’ life.
Still Life, The Home And A Room Of One’s Own shows how artists including Prunella Clough, Gwen John, Vanessa Bell and Caragh Thuring have approached the idea of the room as a site for both independence and isolation.
The Self In Public deals with the many ways artists have chosen to present themselves in public, addressing issues around identity, gender and equality, and includes works by Claude Cahun, Gluck, Eileen Agar and France-Lise McGurn.
Finally, The Self In Private explores the idea of the subconscious and internal psyche and includes works by Sandra Blow, Ithell Colqohoun and Penny Slinger.
Connections are both literal and suggested. Within the exhibition are works by those who had close relationships, and therefore shared ideas, with Virginia including Dora Carrington, Nina Hamnett and Ethel Sands.
A biographical element is present through the inclusion of works by Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell: together, they attempted to discard the idealised role of Victorian femininity embodied by their mother Julia Stephen, as well as the conventions and expectations endorsed by a patriarchal society.
The influence of Virginia’s ideas on subsequent generations – for example, Ithell Colquhoun, Gluck and France-Lise McGurn – give a sense of the legacy of her thinking, and its relevance to society today.
Virginia Woolf has many connections with Sussex. She lived with her husband Leonard at Monk’s House, now owned and managed by the National Trust, from 1919 until 1969. Charleston at Firle became home to her sister Vanessa Bell and the country outpost for the unconventional Bloomsbury Group, of which both sisters were part. It was in the River Ouse at Southease that Virginia eventually committed suicide in 1941.
The exhibition, which has been organised by Tate St Ives in association with Pallant House Gallery and The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, recognises Virginia’s achievements whilst acknowledging the historic and ever-growing community of female creators and thinkers whose art resonates with her call to correct the ‘lopsided-ness’ of history.
It is a celebration of this wider creative community and – in an era of increasing interrogation of gender inequality – acts as a rallying cry for women not only to reclaim territory, but to define a new realm for themselves. As part of this, it positions the creative life as one of value for women.
Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired By Her Writings is at Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, from Saturday-Sunday May 26-September 16. Phone 01243 774557 or visit pallant.org.uk.
Above: Dame Laura Knight, The Dark Pool (1908–1918), Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle © Reproduced with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE RA 2018. All Rights Reserved
Above: Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Rocks, St Mary’s, Scilly Isles, 1953, City Art Centre, City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust
Below: Prunella Clough, The White Root, 1946, oil on board, Tate Purchased 1982 © Estate of Prunella Clough. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018
Above: Gwen John, Self-portrait, 1902, oil on canvas Tate. Purchased 1942 © Tate, London 2018
Below: Vanessa Bell, View of the Pond at Charleston, East Sussex, c.1919, oil on canvas, Museums Sheffield © Estate of Vanessa Bell / Henrietta Garnett
Above: Caragh Thuring, Dutch Details, 2013, oil, gesso and acrylic on canvas, private collection, courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery © Caragh Thuring. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018
Above: Ithell Colquhoun, Alcove 11, 1948, oil on board, collection Richard Shillitoe © By kind permission of the Noise Abatement Society, Samaritans and Spire Healthcare
Above: Penny Slinger, I Hear What you Say, 1973, photo collage, The Penrose Collection, England © Penelope Slinger. All Right Reserved, DACS 2018
Above: Eileen Agar, Collage Head, 1937, collage on paper, The Murray Family Collection, UK & USA © The Estate of Eileen Agar/Bridgeman Images
Above: France-Lise McGurn, Your Daughter’s Daughter, 2017, acrylic paint and oil paint on canvas © Frances-Lise McGurn
Above: Claude Cahun, Self-portrait (as weight trainer), 1927, exhibition print from monochrome negative, Jersey Heritage Trust © Jersey Heritage Collection
Above: Frances Hodgkins, Wings over Water, 1930, oil on canvas, Tate © Tate, London 2018