Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester until 16 September

Posted by on June 26, 2018 in Art, Blog, Exhibition, Women's equality issues | 2 comments

Wilhelmina Barns Graham, Rocks (c) WBG Trust

I have only one complaint regarding this beautiful, fascinating, wide ranging, informative and extremely well curated exhibition: who on earth came up with such a dull title?  How about ‘Breaking Waves: Virginian Inspiration’ ? Surely that would get the punters queueing at the gates.

But I digress; if you are anywhere near Chichester this summer then get thee to the Pallant House Gallery.  The exhibition features 80 female artists from 1854 to the present day.

The exhibition was organised by Tate St. Ives in association with Pallant House Gallery and The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. It was first shown at Tate St Ives and has now moved to Pallant House.

Virginia Woolf spent every summer until she was 13 at Talland House in St Ives. After her mother died in 1895, these annual trips ceased, and Woolf only returned 10 years later, after the death of her father, and accompanied by her sister, Vanessa Bell.  The two sisters had a mutually influential relationship; each inspired the other’s writing/painting, and they valued this from a personal and professional perspective.

It is those childhood summers at St Ives which so inspired Woolf:

If a bowl that one fills and fills…my bowl.. stands upon this memory… bed in the nursery at St Ives..hearing the waves breaking…one, two behind a yellow blind..lying and hearing the splash..seeing this light..feeling the purest ecstasy I can conceive’.

Laura Knight, Dark Pool (c) Estate of Laura Knight

The exhibition is divided into four key themes:

Landscape and Place explores how landscape and nature can be used as metaphors for empowerment and freedom from conventional life.

Still Life features the home and ‘A Room of One’s Own’ – a space for women representing independence, both financial and creative, but also symbolising the physical and psychological constraints placed on women.

Claude Cahun, Self Portrait (As Weight trainer) (c) Jersey Heritage Trust

The Self in Public examines ways artists have chosen to present themselves to the world at large, covering issues such as identity, gender and equality.

The Self in Private looks at the subconscious and internal psyche.

The works on display are a brilliant mixture of painting, sculpture, photography and film, alongside some wonderful textiles that made me want to chuck everything out of the house and start again. There are examples of linen designed by Vanessa Bell for Omega Workshops, which she founded with Roger Fry and Duncan Grant. Other works by Bell on show include some joyful ceramics, including a teapot she decorated for her sister.

Another eminent textile designer featured is Enid Marx, who was one of the first designers selected by the London Transport Board to design seat covers for London buses and tube trains.

There are letters too; gentle accounts of visits, opinions, thanks and reflections.

The exhibition highlights how Woolf ‘s views on feminism and creativity are as relevant to women today as they were when she lived. She had strong ties to groups including the suffrage movement: the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and the World Women Organisation.  Many of her contemporaries whose work is featured in the exhibition were equally committed to feminism and emancipation.  And Judy Chicago’s Study for Virginia Woolf – from the Dinner Party is included in the works on display.

Caragh Turing_Dutch details (c) DACS

Eileen Agar, Gwen John, Dora Carrington, Winifred Nicholson, Claude Cahun, Louise Bourgeois, Lise McGur, Sandra Blow –  the roll call of artists looks and reads like a hundred years of excellence in women’s art.  And there are dames a-plenty to be found amongst the artists too, such as Dames Laura Knight, Barbara Hepworth and Ethel Walker.

So if you missed it when at St Ives, you have until the middle of September to catch this excellent show.  Allow yourself plenty of time, for there is much to explore and take in.

Damesnet wishes to thank Pallant House Gallery for allowing us to use some of the images from the exhibition in this review.



  1. What a fascinating exhibition and yes I prefer your title, Barbara!

    The images are wonderful. It’s certainly something worth seeing.
    Thanks again for drawing our attention to it.

    • Thanks Joyce – I know you were down south earlier in the year, but if you can catch it en route, it’s well worth seeing. Dame B

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