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COMING HOME: Virginia Woolf

Past national programme archive
13 September 2019 - 19 January 2020

Charleston, Lewes

Virginia Woolf was one of the twentieth century’s most important novelists and a central figure in the Bloomsbury group of writers, artists and intellectuals. This portrait was made by fellow Bloomsbury member and Woolf’s elder sister, Vanessa Bell. Here she shows her sister lounging in an armchair while knitting. Woolf’s facial features are blurred, abstracted through the use of bold areas of colour inspired by the art of the Post-Impressionists. Yet rather than distancing her, this blurring serves to inject the portrait with a sense of intimacy and highlights the painter’s proximity to the sitter.

Bell painted Woolf at Asheham, the Sussex home they shared for a few years from 1912. It was only a short distance from Charleston, the house in which Bell would live with her friend and lover Duncan Grant in 1916, and Monk’s House, the marital home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf from 1919. Like Charleston, Asheham was a place of experimentation and freedom for Bell where her sons Julian and Quentin could play in the garden and her Bloomsbury friends could visit and spend hours discussing art, politics and their increasingly complicated private lives.

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