Sandra Blow and Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings

An exhibition at Tate St Ives exploring the legacy of Virginia Woolf includes work by over 80 artists from the past 160 years, including Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Laura Knight, Gwen John, Vanessa Bell, Winifred Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Claude Cahun and Sandra Blow.

The exhibition celebrates the work of female artists who are in some way connected to Woolf or the legacy left by her texts and has been centred, by curator Laura Smith, around Woolf’s notion that we ‘think back through our mothers’. In this way, the exhibition moves away from the monographic or retrospective model with which Tate visitors are familiar, instead advocating that the works included – many of which are diverse in both period and genre – ‘are the outcome of many years of thinking in common’, following from Woolf’s fundamental idea that ‘masterpieces are not single and solitary births’.

The exhibition presents artworks around the themes of landscape and ‘A Room of One’s Own’: combining interior and exterior figurative paintings, photographs and sculpture, as well as a plethora of associated abstract works. As such, the exhibition explores feminist approaches to the public and private lives of modern women, but remains connected to the South West, where Virginia Woolf spent her childhood summers at Talland House in St Ives and returned as an adult, taking inspiration from the town and surrounding landscapes to write To The Lighthouse (1927).

Two works by Sandra Blow, Composition II & III (1965), are included in the exhibition, taken from the artist’s ‘Tea and Ash’ series, which Blow produced between 1965 and 1967. Of the works, Blow has said, “The Tea paintings were really […] a follow-on […] to the more encrusted works. It was a sort of freeing from the surface, and seeing what would happen without that.”

‘Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings’ continues in Tate’s newly extended galleries until 29 April 2018, and tours to Pallant House, Chichester, 26 May – 16 September 2018 and The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge from 2 October – 9 December 2018.

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