Four Rooms of One's Own; from Her Early Years, through Her Tangled Bloomsbury Loves, to Her Suicide, Modernist and Feminist Icon Virginia Woolf Is Treated to the Dedicated Show That She Deserves

The Evening Standard (London, England), July 10, 2014 | Go to article overview

Four Rooms of One's Own; from Her Early Years, through Her Tangled Bloomsbury Loves, to Her Suicide, Modernist and Feminist Icon Virginia Woolf Is Treated to the Dedicated Show That She Deserves


Byline: Ben Luke

EXHIBITION OF THE WEEK VIRGINIA WOOLF: ART, VISION AND LIFE National Portrait Gallery, WC2 VIRGINIA Woolf 's life and work have been pored over in countless biographies and other media, not least Stephen Daldry's 2002 partbiopic The Hours, featuring Nicole Kidman as Woolf, with that rather unfortunate prosthetic conk.

Now it's the turn of an exhibition. The National Portrait Gallery's show features 100 works, including family photographs, letters and diaries as well as paintings and sculpture by Woolf's Bloomsbury peers.

The NPG is a fitting venue because what the exhibition amounts to is a sketched portrait, a visual guide across four rooms to a well-trodden life and career, from her birth in 1882 into an upper-middle class literary family, through her Bloomsbury years and friendships with literature and art's great and good, to the bouts of mental illness that would lead to her suicide in 1941.

August figures surrounded Virginia Stephen from the start. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was an esteemed literary critic and scholar, and her mother, Julia, was from a similarly learned and distinguished family. Virginia was the great-niece of photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, whose portraits of eminent Victorians known to the family adorned the walls of the family's Hyde Park Gate house, amid paintings by George Frederic Watts and etchings by Joshua Reynolds. Some of Cameron's portraits appear here, including Charles Darwin, with his luminous white beard, and Lord Tennyson, with his mop of curly, dark hair.

Woolf wrote later that "great men stood in the background" of their lives. "Greatness still seems to me a positive possession; booming; eccentric; set apart; something to which I am led up dutifully by my parents," she added. "It is a bodily presence; it has nothing to do with anything said." She had much to live up to.

Near these grand men is Cameron's far more delicate photograph of Woolf's mother, and George Charles Beresford's less dramatic but hugely famous images of Woolf herself, emphasising how she inherited her mother's handsome, elegant features.

The Cameron portraits clearly meant much to the family: Virginia's sister, Vanessa, who later rose to fame as the painter Vanessa Bell, took several of the photographs from her family home to the siblings' first Bloomsbury house at 46 Golden Square and hung images of the men opposite several of her mother in the house's hallway.

It was in Golden Square after 1904 that Woolf made the first steps to her own greatness. She, Vanessa and their brothers, Thoby and Adrian, began holding their Thursday-evening "at homes", discussion soirees that marked the beginning of the Bloomsbury group. Enter the familiar Bloomsbury characters: Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, Simon Bussy, Lady Ottoline Morrell, Roger Fry and so on. Fry's presence was crucial in providing the group with an artistic identity, formed out of his evangelical passion for the French post-impressionism of Cezanne, Gauguin and their followers.

Grant's 1911 portrait of Virginia was an attempt to grapple with postimpressionist language -- the broken marks, rawness of paint and unorthodox colour. Looming up out of the impastoed paint, it is among the best portraits in the show. Unfortunately, few others get near it. Bell's portrait of Roger Fry, attempting to use similarly broken brushmarks, captures an animation in its subject but feels programmatic.

Though he was praised by Woolf as having "more knowledge and experience than the rest of us put together", Fry's own painting is wretched -- his portrait of Woolf is clearly deliberately reductive and naive, yet it's hopelessly weak. Bell's portrait of her at the same time is far better -- more delicate in its handling, crisper in line and cleaner in colour. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Four Rooms of One's Own; from Her Early Years, through Her Tangled Bloomsbury Loves, to Her Suicide, Modernist and Feminist Icon Virginia Woolf Is Treated to the Dedicated Show That She Deserves
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.