Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Confidence of Her Class

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Confidence of Her Class

Article excerpt

Byline: RACHEL CUSK

GWEN RAVERAT: Friends, Family and Affections by Frances Spalding

THE axis of Gwen Raverat's life passes through some of the most visited areas of British art and letters, and although she was a minor figure in the Cambridge of Rupert Brooke, the Bloomsbury group and the art-school milieu of the first decades of the 20th century, almost by default her experiences bear the imprint of those well-trodden years and demonstrate what was genuinely remarkable about them. For all its faults of exclusivity, privilege and frequent silliness, the artistic and social confidence exhibited by women of that period is striking.

Gwen Raverat's own daughters reverted to the norm of motherhood and housewifery; such a steep incline in the trajectory of sexual equality was not to come again for some years.

Raverat's grandfather was Charles Darwin and, like Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, she seems to have been empowered by a sense of dynastic intellectual entitlement, naturally following her early talent for painting, unburdened by any sense of impropriety. She grew up in Cambridge in considerable style - she later wrote about the Victorian twilight of her childhood in her memoir Period Piece - and procured drawing lessons from the dynamic Miss Greene (Graham's aunt, as it happens), who fired women into the Slade School of Art from her presuffrage bunker

with commendable accuracy. Raverat was a gifted painter, but her genius was for woodcuts.

Her small, intricate monochrome images are unutterably haunting: melancholic, deeply private, strangely dreamlike, they are like photographs of things not seen but recollected. Raverat later pursued a successful career as an illustrator of children's books, and it is exactly this quality, the feeling of looking at something one looked at as a child, that marks out her work.

Meanwhile, she was entangled in a tortuous romance with the anglicised French painter, Jacques Raverat, whom she had met at Cambridge through Rupert Brooke. …

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