This major touring exhibition, featuring 80 female artists from 1854 to the present day, has at its heart the pioneering writings of novelist Virginia Woolf. It seeks to show how her perspectives on feminism and creativity have remained relevant to a community of creative women across time: 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
26 May – 16 September 2018
‘Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings' acts as a lens through which ideas around landscape, domesticity and identity - recurring ideas in Woolf's writing - have been dealt with across a century of art. The exhibition 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 Woolf including Dora Carrington, Nina Hamnett and Ethel Sands.
A biographical element is present through the inclusion of works by Woolf'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 Woolf'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, giving added relevance to this exhibition's staging in Chichester. She lived with her husband Leonard at Monk's House, now owned and managed by the National Trust, from 1919 until 1969. Charleston Farmhouse 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 Woolf eventually committed suicide in 1941.
The exhibition recognises Woolf'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 runs at Pallant House Gallery from 26 May - 16 September 2018. The exhibition has been organised by Tate St Ives in association with Pallant House Gallery and The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.