Friday, 12 May 2017

Vanessa Bell

tomorrow  I  am giving a talk at the Whitstable Literary Festival, which is dedicated to the Bloomsbury Group and to Vita Sackville West in particular, whose ancestral home Knole is not far away.
  I intended to talk about Vita and her portraits, and am indeed starting with those. 

Here, for example, is a curious image of the Hon. Vita in 1911,  when she donned fancydress for a 'Shakespeare Ball' on the eve of the coronation of George V.    It took place in the Albert Hall and dozens from high society took part.    Commercial photographers took and published many of the images, which show that many, maybe most of Vita's fellow performers chose Tudorbethan costumes, in keeping with the theme.  Vita evidently did not follow the late-medieval trend,  but which Shakespearean character is she invoking?  it ought to be Rosalind,  but  the hat and particularly the skirt don't seem to fit that role....
I am also aiming to look at images of Vanessa Bell, which I have not previously seen.

These two photographs , from one of the many photo albums filled by Vanessa and Virginia, were taken in Rome by a professional studio run by Henri de Lieure. They apparently date from 1904, though I can't find references to Vanessa visiting Rome then.     They seem untypical images of Vanessa  and at first I thought the one with the lattice chair-back was a photo of a painting, given the soft focus that emulates brushstrokes.  But as Vanessa is wearing the same gown in each image, I assume the effect is a bit of  early photoshopping, such as the Stephens sisters' great aunt Julia Margaret would have appreciated had it been available for her pioneering photographs.  
I wonder if Vanessa's companions on this trip, whoever they were, also  sat to Lieure.
then there is this striking portrait of Vanessa by Roger Fry, which is just published in the British Art Journal by Martin Ferguson Smith, together with a hitherto unknown drawing of Fry's wife Helen and a snapshot of Vanessa standing naked against chalk cliffs in Dorset.
The painting, in gouache over pencil outlines, shows dramatically the Post-Impressionist impact on Bloomsbury portraiture.

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