Posts Tagged ‘A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections’

Tomorrow, you can decorate your own Bloomsbury plate. Yesterday I heard a lecture on Bloomsbury artists.

These are some of the final activities during the final days of the final stop on the cross-country tour of the traveling exhibit, A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections.

The exhibit will be at the Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., through Sept. 26. After that, all the artwork, books, fabric and furniture will be carefully packed and returned to their owners. Artist Jasper Johns, for example, will be reunited with his Omega Workshop pottery.

When Benjamin Harvey, associate professor of art history at Mississippi State University,  reviewed the exhibit for Blogging Woolf nearly one year ago, he recommended that Bloomsbury afficionados “make every effort to see it.”

Riders on the storm

Early Thursday evening, I took his advice, setting off from Ohio to Pennsylvania in a violent rainstorm — the one that brought tornadoes to the East Coast — with the expectation that we would view the Bloomsbury exhibit the next day. We did, despite the unfortunate weather that kept us on the edge of our car seat the entire way.

It was worth the trip.

I have been to Charleston Farmhouse and Monk’s House, so I have seen many original works of Bloomsbury art. But this exhibit was different. It displays a large collection of Bloomsbury art together in a gallery setting, which gave me the chance to step back and appreciate it one piece at a time without feeling overwhelmed or rushed by tour guides.

As a result, I felt a new appreciation for the artistry of Vanessa Bell. I clearly saw that her artwork stands on its own rather than in the shadow of Duncan Grant.

Giant canvas greeting

© 2010 by Nasher Museum Blogs

Visitors to the Penn State exhibit are initially greeted by a giant Duncan Grant painting that depicts an exuberant male nude holding cymbals. Although it dwarfs even the tallest art lover, the painting is just one part of the 1937 original oil on canvas, which was commissioned to hang over the massive fireplace in the first-class lounge of the Queen Mary, according to Christopher Reed, associate professor of English and visual culture at Penn State and co-curator for the exhibit.

Along with other commissioned designs, such as upholstery fabric of cotton velveteen patterned with an obviously Bloomsbury design, and carpeting, it was never used on the ship. Cunard, the ship’s owner, changed course and decided to use an art deco look for the first-class quarters instead.

Grant’s massive painting featuring the nude cymbal player and other elements was discovered years later in the barn of Kenneth Clark, English art historian. It was covered with pigeon droppings, so had to undergo extensive restoration before it was fit for exhibition, Reed explained.

Drawn into Bloomsbury

A multi-media display greets visitors to the Bloomsbury exhibit.

A multi-media display introduces visitors to the actual exhibit, and it draws them into the Bloomsbury scene with its life-size graphics of a Charleston Farmhouse bedroom. Just below the window ledge is  a video screen where a slide presentation shows scenes from the early 20th-century era, photographs of Bloomsbury Group members, examples of their art and quotes that help illuminate their thinking.

Even the display tables that hold important artifacts are decorated in Bloomsbury style. They were loaned to the Penn State exhibit by Cornell. Inside the glass cases resting on the decorated display tables are letters from Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry and others, as well as numerous volumes published by the Hogarth Press. These included Virginia’s novels with dust jackets decorated by Vanessa Bell, along with the English translations of the works of Sigmund Freud.

Influence of Bloomsbury artists

Joyce Robinson and Christopher Reed, co-curators of the Bloomsbury exhibit at Penn State

In his noon lecture, Christopher Reed, associate professor of English and visual culture at Penn State and co-curator for the exhibit, discussed the influence of Bloomsbury artists on early twentieth-century thinking about art and the art of home decoration.

He also noted their appreciation for the unique imperfections of handmade art – from Omega Workshop pottery to the utilitarian shutters painted by Vanessa Bell.

While some items that were included in earlier installations were not part of the Palmer exhibit — such as Woolf’s writing desk decorated by Quentin Bell — three paintings that did not appear in earlier exhibits are part of this one. All three were loaned by an individual who viewed an earlier exhibit and noted that he had several paintings by the same artist at home.

The three turned out to be the work of Duncan Grant. They are:

  • “Hatbox”
  • “Still Life with Jug”
  • “Paul Roche in the Bath”

Joyce Robinson, curator at the Palmer, gave visitors insight into how Vanessa and Virginia worked together. She quoted Woolf as saying the sisters had the same eyes but wore different spectacles.

Palmer's Bloomsbury bookmark

In particular, she cited the edition of Kew Gardens decorated by Vanessa Bell. Robinson said Vanessa and Virginia worked on the layout together, making sure that Vanessa’s decorations and Virginia’s hand-set type complimented each other both visually and symbolically.

More on Woolf and knitting

Another interesting item from the exhibit, in light of the ongoing discussion on the VWoolf Listserv regarding Woolf and knitting,  is a pencil drawing by Roger Fry depicting his daughter, titled “Pamela Knitting and Reading.”

Reed, author of Bloomsbury Rooms: Modernism, Subculture, and Domesticity, said some argue that paintings depicting Virginia knitting really show her engaged in book binding.

Welcome commodification at the museums

Bloomsbury 2010 tattoo

To view more artwork from the exhibit visit the Nasher Museum exhibit page. The Duke University museum was the first stop on the tour. You can also purchase the exhibit catalogue from Cornell.

However, unless you make a trip to the Palmer soon, you will have no chance to get the freebies they gave out: an exhibit bookmark and a Bloomsbury 2010 temporary tattoo that features Woolf. I can’t wait to apply mine.

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Time is running out to see “A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections” exhibit. The largest collection of Bloomsbury art to have been shown in the states for almost a decade, the exhibit will be in the U.S.  through Sept. 26.

Here are the details:

What: A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections
Where: Palmer Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa.
What: An exhibition of paintings, watercolors, drawings and books from the Hogarth Press and decorative works and designs from the Bloomsbury Group

Special events are planned as part of this exhibition. They include:

  • Bloomsbury guided tours of the exhibition
  • gallery talks by co-curator Christopher Reed and others
  • furniture-painting workshop a la Bloomsbury for adults
  • T-shirt and box painting and collage workshops for children
  • discussion of A Room of One’s Own
  • a film series, including “Carrington,” “The Hours,” “Maurice” and “A Passage to India.”

Read Benjamin Harvey’s review. Get the exhibit catalogue, the cover of which is pictured above.

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If you live in the Midwest, as I do, January might be the time to take a trip to the Chicago area. Why? The Bloomsburries are coming.

The Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University will host the exhibition A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections.

The exhibit, which focuses on the work of Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant and Dora Carrington, will be on display at the Evanston, Ill., museum’s main and Alsdorf galleries from Jan. 15 to March 14. Admission is free and open to the public.

Get the details about the exhibition. View digital images of works from the exhibition online.

The museum and other Northwestern entitities have also scheduled a variety of related events and programs, many of which are free. They include:

  • Docent-led tours of the exhibition at 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from Jan. 16 to March 14.
  • A four-part Saturday matinee series at Block Cinema that begins at 2 p.m. Jan. 16 and runs through Feb. 20. Two of the four films are free. Admission for the other two is $6 for the general public and $4 for Northwestern faculty, staff and students.
  • A three-part Bloomsbury lecture series starting at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, that includes discussions of Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster and John Maynard Keynes.
  • A 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7, performance of Eileen Atkin’s play “Vita & Virginia,” which is adapted from correspondence between Woolf and Vita Sackville-West.
  • The Arts of Crafts” hands-on workshop at 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21, for families with children ages 6 to 10.
  • A 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, book club discussion on Woolf’s classic feminist polemic, A Room of One’s Own.
  • A day-long academic symposium, “New Looks: The Social Life of Art and Design in Bloomsbury,” scheduled for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27. It will present fresh and diverse scholarship on Bloomsbury art and design, covering topics ranging from the decorative arts, fashion and social dancing to literary responses to architecture and painting, according to the museum Web site.
  • A companion exhibition, “Only Connect — Bloomsbury Family and Friends,” will run from Jan. 14 to April 30 at Northwestern University Library of Special Collections, 1970 Campus Dr. It will explore the Bloomsbury group as a network of friends and families.
  • The Alumnae of Northwestern University will present a 10-week continuing education course, “The Bloomsbury Era Revisited,” Jan. 7 to March 11.  The non-credit afternoon course is open to the public. It will be taught by Northwestern faculty at Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Dr. More information is available online.
  • A 6 p.m. Thursday, March 11, gallery talk on the exhibition by Block Museum curator Corinne Granof.

If you want to bone up on the main figures of the Bloomsbury group, you can read “Ten Characters In Search of a Group: A Sketch of Bloomsbury,” written by One-Soon Her, here.

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bloomsbury catalogEditor’s Note: Benjamin Harvey, the author of this piece, is an associate professor of art history at Mississippi State University. He is currently editing an edition of Virginia Woolf’s essays on art criticism and visual culture.

A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections is the largest collection of Bloomsbury art to have been shown in the states for almost a decade.  I strongly suggest you make every effort to see it.  It will probably be more than ten years before a comparable opportunity presents itself again.  If you can’t see the show, which is now at Cornell University, but will shortly move on to other colleges, consider buying the handsome catalog, to which (full disclosure!) I contributed an essay.

Largely created by Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry and Dora Carrington, or products of the Omega Workshops, the show’s works provide a vivid sense of the kind of art Woolf surrounded herself with, supported financially, and occasionally wrote about.   Though portraits of Woolf are included, most strikingly one by her sister, now in Smith College, these are not the only objects connected to her.

At Cornell (but not, alas, other locations) it’s a delight to find a writing desk she owned.  Around 1929, Quentin Bell decorated the desk, painting a female figure on its work surface.  There she reclines, wearing sandals and a leafy crown: trumpet in one hand, quill in the other.  Was, one wonders, Woolf’s nephew alluding to the recently published Orlando and the mock pageantry of its famous transformation scene?

Woolf’s books, the product of her desk, suit a gallery space almost as much as a study.  Vanessa Bell dust jackets and woodcuts are included in the show but, more interestingly, so is a selection of seldom seen preparatory works.  Providing insights into how Bell arrived at her final designs, we see studies for Flush’s illustrations and for the covers of A Room of One’s Own, Mrs Dalloway, and The Common Reader.

The exhibition also includes works that relate to Woolf’s broader interests and imagery.  With its array of eclectic objects, Roger Fry’s still life of Paper Flowers on a Mantelpiece (1919) speaks of the impulse to collect, display, and share objects—a theme memorably explored in Woolf’s contemporaneous story “Solid Objects.”  Woolf’s main character, John, will also place his strange collectables on a mantelpiece, and vivid descriptions of objects on a mantle appear in “Blue and Green,” a short, imagistic work found in Monday or Tuesday.

Finally, another favorite Woolfian subject appears in a Grant study.  His 1933 watercolor portrait of Elizabeth Tudor was destined to end up on a plate, part of a large dinner service designed by Grant and Bell for Kenneth Clark.  The service’s coordinating concept was “famous women” and Woolf’s likeness was included in it, too.

Grant’s study indirectly reminds us that Woolf and Elizabeth can, in fact, already be found together on American soil, where they are again associated with appetite.  Both are among the guests of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, now permanently installed in the Brooklyn Museum of Art.  Thus long after the current show ends, Woolf will still have a place, or place setting, reserved for her in America.

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header_block_logoThe Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University will host a one-day symposium on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010, to explore topics related to the exhibition A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections, which will be on display at the Evanston, Ill. museum from Jan. 15 to March 14.

The museum invites proposals for presentations on such topics as Bloomsbury art production, criticism, display, and collecting; the Omega Workshops; design of books, fashion, gardens, architecture, domestic spaces, ceramics, furniture; ekphrastic writing and other aspects of visual culture related to the Bloomsbury group or its influences.

Please submit by e-mail a 250- to 300-word proposal with a title, your name, e-mail and mailing addresses, phone number, and institutional affiliation to Professors Christine Froula at cfroula@northwestern.edu and Christopher Reed at creed@psu.edu by Sept. 11, 2009

The museum will offer all speakers a small honorarium and will cover travel expenses and accommodations.

Read more about the exhibit, which is at Cornell University through Oct. 18.

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