Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
Vanessa Bell (Kensington 1879 – Firle 1961)
This is one in a series of four innovative portraits that Vanessa Bell made of her sister Virginia Woolf. It is probably the earliest of the series.
Oil painting on panel, Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) by Vanessa Bell (Kensington 1879 – Firle 1961), circa 1912. A half-length portrait facing, head and gaze to the left, seated at a table with her right arm resting on an open book, short brown hair, wearing a green blouse with a pale grey/blue cardigan. Probably painted at Asheham House, Sussex, the house that Leonard Woolf and Virginia occupied for holidays and weekends from 1912, until their marriage in 1919, when they had to surrender the lease to the owner. It stood just off the road between Lewes and Newhaven, in East Sussex, near the village of Beddingham. It is similar to Roger Fry's portrait of the sitter almost in the same pose and clothes which is on loan from a private collection to Leeds City Art Gallery.
There are good reasons for believing that the first of this series of four portraits of Virginia by Bell is that now in the possession of the National Trust and which hangs at Monk’s House, Rodmell, the Sussex home of Leonard and Virginia Woolf. In this half-length portrait, Virginia leans slightly forward, with her arms resting on a table and her hands clasped. It was painted at the same as one by Roger Fry (Private Collection on loan to Leeds Art Gallery) and in both portraits the tentative outlining of form with a dark colour is a technique frequently found in early experiments in English Post-Impressionism. It also suggests awareness of Matisse’s summary use of the same in the Woman with Green Eyes (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) , which had been the focus of much comment in the first Post-Impressionist exhibition. There is a confidence in Bell’s portraits that Fry’s lacks. Her portrait may have been done at one sitting, for the facial features appear to have been dropped into position with speed and assurance. Adapted from Frances Spalding’s essay ‘Vanessa, Virginia and the Modern Portrait’ in Vanessa Bell, edited by Sarah Milroy & Ian A.C. Dejardin, London, New York: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2017, p. 69.
Purchased by National Trust in 1984 from Sotheby's
Monk’s House, Rodmell, The Virginia & Leonard Woolf Collection (National Trust)
Makers and roles
Vanessa Bell (Kensington 1879 – Firle 1961), artist
Vanessa Bell (1879 - 1961), Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 2017, no.p.64
Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision (ed. Frances Spalding), National Portrait Gallery, London, 10 July to 26 October 2014 The National Trust Magazine, Number 91 Autumn 2001, p. 25 (Alan Bennet: A favourite painting) Vanessa Bell (Ed. Sarah Milroy & Ian A. C. Dejardin) published on the occasion of the exhibition: Vanessa Bell , Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 8 February - 4 June 2017, p.64, p.69, p.198